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Only a radical government can end the Great British Rip-Off

The next Labour government will tackle vested interests, reduce income inequality and end the race to the bottom.

The ‘Great British Rip-Off’ is a series of events launched by Unions Together, the Trade Union Group and CLASS in Parliament tonight. Sadiq spoke alongside Frances O’Grady, Zoe Williams, Katy Clark MP and Matthew Pennycook.

In my constituency of Tooting in south London, as right across the capital and the country – the cost of living crisis is a lived experience for most people, with very real consequences away from the words of Westminster and Fleet Street. People work long and hard hours, but yet too often still struggle to make ends meet at the end of the month. Work should pay for everyone and it should pay enough for people to eat healthily and provide for their families with dignity – a real living wage. Yet for too many people, this just isn’t the case, with zero-hours contracts on the rise, exorbitant tube and train fares, rising energy bills and a housing crisis so acute that many people can’t afford their rent, let alone dream of buying a home.

Labour has said unequivocally that we will address the cost of living crisis. We will ban the exploitative working practices associated with many zero-hours contracts and take on the vested interests of the Big Six energy companies by freezing prices while we fix the broken energy market. These policies will make a real difference to millions of people. The next Labour government will also tackle the long-term causes of the cost of living crisis.

The issues I hear about every day from Londoners are the symptoms of deeper and longer trends, that have seen a decline in living standards and a sharp rise in income inequality. The IMF has highlighted that the decline of trade union power is associated with the dramatic increase in income inequality over the last 30 years. In the early 1980s, collective bargaining covered 70 per cent of the British workforce but that has now dropped below 30 per cent. This has reduced the ability of the trade union movement to deliver fairness, safe working conditions and support productivity in the workforce.

Incomes in London are more unequal than in any other region, with 16 per cent of the population in the poorest tenth nationally and 17 per cent in the richest tenth. Twenty eight per cent of Londoners now live in poverty and almost 60 per cent of them are from working families. The richest 10 per cent have 60 per cent of all assets, while the poorest 80 per cent of the population share just 20 per cent. As our economy finally begins to recover after wasted three years, we are unambiguous that the benefits of growth must be shared by everyone in our society, rather than just going to the wealthiest.

Ed Miliband has been clear that to do that, we must end the Tories' relentless race to the bottom and ensure that the benefits of growth are distributed more fairly. This re-balancing of our economy will be tough. But Labour are up to the challenge. It’s why this week we have laid out our plans for a 'Jobs Guarantee'; we will guarantee a job for all young people aged 16-24 who are out of work for more than a year, paid for by a tax on bankers' bonuses and by restricting pensions tax relief for those earning over £150,000. It’s why we will introduce a Mansion Tax on properties worth more than £2m and use the funds to introduce a 10p tax rate to help lower paid workers – putting right a mistake of the last Labour government. And it’s why we have committed to building 200,000 homes a year by the end of the next Parliament.

And we will do more to tackle the long-term causes of income inequality. That is why Ed Miliband has said that under a Labour government, all companies will have to have an employee on their remuneration committees, to give them a seat at the table when decisions about pay are being made. And that’s why the next Labour government will take action to strengthen the national minimum wage and promote the living wage.

The National Minimum Wage is the achievement of the last Labour government of which I am most proud. But this crucial protection for low-paid workers is being eroded. It is worth less in real-terms than it was when we left office in 2010 and not a single company has been named and shamed for non-payment under David Cameron. Labour will increase the fines for paying below the minimum wage to £50,000 and we have asked Alan Buckle, former deputy chairman of KPMG International, to look at how we could strengthen the policy and ensure that where sectors can afford to pay more, they do.

Government needs to do more to promote the Living Wage so we can raise the wages of the lowest-paid workers. All 32 Labour Council Groups in London have agreed to pay all staff and contractors at least the Living Wage if they win control at the local elections on 22 May. And on entering office, the next Labour government will launch a national campaign to agree Make Work Pay Contracts with British businesses. These contracts will mean that, in return for becoming accredited Living Wage employers within the first year of a Labour government, businesses will receive back 12 months’ worth of the resulting increased tax and National Insurance revenues received by the government.

We also need to get excessive executive pay under control  by increasing transparency. The next Labour government will simplify remuneration packages, make all companies publish the pay ratio between the highest paid executive and the companies median average and put an obligation on investors and pension fund managers to disclose how they vote on remuneration packages. In contrast, the Tories have consistently attacked and weakened employee rights and have prioritised policies that benefit the wealthiest, such as the tax cut for millionaires.

Tackling the deep-rooted and long-term causes of the cost of living crisis will not be easy. It will require a radical and transformative government with the political will to take on vested interests and challenge those who abuse their power – something David Cameron has proved incapable of as Prime Minister. Ed Miliband’s Labour Party has that will. We will do what it takes to tackle the cost of living crisis in this country, reduce income inequality and end the race to the bottom.

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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