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.
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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.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.