George Osborne during a visit to officially re-open The Red Lion pub in Westminster, following a major refurbishment, on February 25, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

How a minimum wage rise will help the coalition

The first real-terms increase since 2008 will make it easier for the Tories and the Lib Dems to argue that the trend is moving in the right direction.

After months of speculation over a rise in the minimum wage, the Low Pay Commission has finally spoken: the main rate will rise by 3 per cent to £6.50 an hour from October this year. With inflation running at 1.9 per cent (and expected to remain on target), it will be the first real-terms increase since 2008. Labour is pointing out that the rate is below the £7 figure touted by George Osborne (with Chuka Umunna accusing him of "misleading and empty rhetoric"), but it's worth noting that the Chancellor suggested that the minimum wage could rise to this level "by 2015-16" (not 2014-15). Should the LPC recommend a larger increase next year (with the recovery continuing to accelerate), this target could be still be met.

For both the Tories and the Lib Dems, the announcement is unambiguously good news. While Labour can still point out that the average worker is £1,600 worse off than before David Cameron became prime minister, the coalition can at least argue that the trend is moving in the right direction. As the Lib Dems seek to earn some political credit from the recovery and the Tories (however unconvincingly) rebrand themselves as the "Workers' Party", a rise in the minimum wage (which will benefit at least 1.2 million workers) is among the most helpful measures.

Whether or not the voters regard this as a genuine "recovery" is one of the issues that will determine the outcome of the election. A recent YouGov poll for the Resolution Foundation found that 39 per cent of the public believe a "recovery in living standards" requires their incomes to start rising again after recent falls, while 46 per cent believe it requires incomes to be restored to their pre-crisis level (which is not forecast to happen until the end of the decade), showing how finely-balanced the debate is. A rise in the minimum wage will help the coalition to convince voters that its preferred definition of "recovery" is the right one.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.