Thousands of people join the TUC's Britain Needs a Pay Rise demonstration in London today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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When it comes to pay, Londoners need real change

We need a mayor who works to help Londoners with second jobs, not those with second homes. 

Just yesterday, as I walked towards the tube on my way out of Parliament, I walked past HMRC to see a crowd of people on the street. When I looked closer, I saw it was a group of Whitehall cleaners, protesting to be paid a living wage, with "don’t wash your hands of us" written on their palms. It turns out that the cleaners had requested to meet with the HMRC chief executive to discuss their low pay, but had been denied an audience. They’d sent a letter to him earlier this year which said:

"We work hard to keep the offices clean, but we are paid less than it costs to live. Due to our low pay many of us have two or even three jobs to make ends meet, working long hours, leaving the house at 4.30am and not returning until past 9pm."

I could tell Staggers readers that this resonates with stories I hear every week at my advice surgeries in Tooting, but it doesn't. The reason why? They are all at work! The constituents I hear these stories from are people like Adowa, who I met at a Sunday church service, who leaves Tooting via the night bus during the week at 4am to get to north London for the first of her two cleaning jobs. And people like Stephen, who gets the 44 bus (which my Dad used to drive) to get to work in central London. Stephen leaves his young son and daughter sleeping when he leaves the house, only to return past their bedtime when he gets home after a double shift. And that’s on a good day when he is given work - his employer has hundreds of people like him on zero hour contracts, leaving Stephen and his family unable to plan week to week, let alone for the long term future.

It's stories like this that really make me stop and think about what our city has become. A recent report by Changing London showed just how unequal London has become. One in five jobs in London are now "low paid" and this number has rocketed under Boris Johnson. Nearly a third of Londoners now live in poverty and, even more staggeringly, two thirds of them are actually in work. The number of people in "in-work poverty" has risen by almost half a million since 2001. I was shocked, but not surprised, when I read the Global Wealth Report which landed on my desk this week. It found that the UK is the only G7 country in which the gap between rich and poor is rising this century.

Having a job no longer guarantees that you can afford to live in the capital. It’s just not right that Londoners can go to work every day, work long hours and still live in poverty, struggling to bring up their families. Londoners like Adowa and Stephen both need and deserve real change. Those who live and work in our city should be paid enough not to have to work two jobs, and to keep families out of poverty. Let’s get it straight - wages have completely failed to keep pace with the cost-of living in London. As housing and bills takes up an ever higher percentage of Londoner’s salaries, tens of thousands of hard working families have been pushed into poverty.

I want London to be a more equal city, and evidence shows that this would be better for all of us. That's why I joined more than 80,000 people who took part in the @PayRise4Britain march today. From teachers to nurses, to postal works to civil servants, I spoke to people from across our city who are feeling the stresses and strains of just getting by day to day. Moving forward, when it comes to pay, Londoners need real change. We need a mayor who works to help Londoners with second jobs, not those with second homes. The living wage is not a luxury in London, it allows families to pay their bills and stay afloat. By massively increasing the minimum wage and making the living wage a reality for millions more Londoners, we can make a real difference, ensuring that all Londoners share our city's successes, and that no one is left behind.

Sadiq Khan is Labour's shadow London minister. He joined the TUC's Pay Rise for Britain march in central London today.

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.
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"Labour are as pro-Brexit as the Tories": what do Sinn Fein's MPs really want from Westminster?

Its seven MPs are much less sympathetic to Corbyn's party than popularly imagined, and won't ever take their seats.

Should the Conservative minority government fall, what is Jeremy Corbyn’s route to power? The counterfactual as popularly understood goes like this: Corbyn would pick up the phone to his old pal Gerry Adams and convince Sinn Fein’s seven MPs to abandon the habit of a century and take their seats.

There are countless reasons why this would never happen, most of them obvious. One is more surprising. Despite Corbyn’s longstanding links with the republican cause, the Labour party is not all that popular among a new intake, which is preoccupied with one thing above all else: Brexit.

No wonder. Sinn Fein’s long game is an all-Ireland one, and the party believe the UK’s departure from the EU will hasten reunification. In the meantime, however, its priority is a Brexit deal that gives Northern Ireland – where 56 per cent of voters backed remain – designated status within the EU.

Pioneered by the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party as an antidote to Brexit, designated status would allow the six counties in the North to continue to enjoy the EU’s four freedoms. But the idea is anathema to unionists and the UK government, and Sinn Fein sees little evidence that the Westminster establishment will make it work – not even Labour.

“They are as pro-Brexit as the Conservatives are,” says Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy. “We’re anti-Brexit. We want to see the right of the people in the North who voted to remain in Europe respected.”

Simmering resentment over what the party perceives to have been broken promises on Tony Blair’s part – especially over legal protection for the Irish language, a key stumbling block obstructing the resumption of power-sharing – makes the already implausible deal even less likely.

“The Irish language act was something that Blair agreed to,” says Molloy. “So when people talk about us taking our seats, they don’t realise we would be backing a Labour government that wouldn’t be living up to its commitments either, and would be just as pro-Brexit as the Conservatives are."

That criticism may well surprise a lay audience whose working assumption is that Adams and Corbyn work hand in glove. But it is perhaps the best illustration of Sinn Fein’s parliamentary priorities: its seven MPs will not in any circumstances take their seats but use their Westminster presence to lobby ministers and MPs of all stripes while running constituency offices at home (they are unsalaried, but claim expenses).

Crucially, its MPs believe abstentionism strengthens, rather than weakens their negotiating hand: by their logic other parties need not and do not fear them given the fact they do not have voting power.

They will use their leverage to agitate for special status above all else. “Special status is the biggest issue that we are lobbying for,” says Molloy. “We feel that is the best way of securing and retaining EU membership. But if we get a referendum on Irish unity and the people vote for that, then the North will automatically join the EU.”

But that wasn’t always the received wisdom. That assurance was in fact secured by Mark Durkan, the former deputy first minister and SDLP MP beaten by Sinn Fein last week, after an exchange with Brexit secretary David Davis at the leaving the EU select committee. The defeat of the three SDLP MPs – two of them by Sinn Fein – means there will be no Irish nationalist voice in the commons while Brexit is negotiated.

Surely that’s bad news for Northern Irish voters? “I don’t think it is,” says Molloy. “The fact we took two seats off the SDLP this time proves abstentionism works. It shows they didn’t deliver by attending. We have a mandate for abstentionism. The people have now rejected attendance at Westminster, and rejected Westminster itself. We’ve never been tempted to take our seats at all. It is very important we live by our mandate.”

If they did, however, they would cut the Conservatives’ and Democratic Unionist Party’s working majority from 13 to a much more precarious six. But Molloy believes any alliance will be a fundamentally weak one and that all his party need do is wait. “I think it’ll be short-lived,” he says. “Every past arrangement between the British government and unionist parties has always ended in tears.”

But if the DUP get its way – the party has signed a confidence and supply deal which delivers extra cash for Northern Ireland – then it need not. Arlene Foster has spoken of her party’s desire to secure a good deal for the entire country. Unsurprisingly, however, Sinn Fein does not buy the conciliatory rhetoric.

“They’ve never really tried to get a good deal for everybody,” says Michelle Gildernew, who won the hyper-marginal of Fermanagh and South Tyrone back from the Ulster Unionists last week. “The assembly and executive [which Sinn Fein and the DUP ran together] weren’t working for a lot of groups – whether that was the LGBT community, the Irish language community, or women...they might say they’re going to work for everybody, but we’ll judge them by their actions, not their words.”

Molloy agrees, and expresses concern that local politicians won’t be able to scrutinise new spending. “The executive needs to be up and running to implement that, and to ensure a fair distribution. If there’s new money coming into the North, we welcome that, but it has to be done through the executive.”

On current evidence, the call for local ministers to scrutinise the Conservatives’ deal with the DUP is wishful thinking – Northern Ireland has been without an executive since February, when the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister and triggered a snap election.

The talks since have been defined by intransigence and sluggishness. James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland secretary, has had to postpone the talks deadline on four separate occasions, and has been criticised by nationalists for his perceived closeness to the DUP.

The final deadline for the restoration of an executive is 29 June 2017. Sinn Fein has called for Brokenshire to recuse himself in favour of a neutral chair. “His hands are tied now, completely,” says Molloy. “The Conservative party were always questionable on where they stood – they’ve always been unionists. The issue now is whether they can act neutrally as a guarantor to the Good Friday Agreement.”

He believes that question is already settled. “Legally, they have to act to ensure that nothing happens to damage that agreement – but we’ve already breached it through Brexit. There was no consultation. The people of the North voted to remain and it hasn’t been recognised. It totally undermines the consent principle.”

Just how they and Brokenshire interpret that principle – the part of the Good Friday Agreement that specifies the constitutional status of the North can only change by consent of its people – will be key to whether they can achieve their ultimate goal: Irish unity.

Molloy and Gildernew say the fact that 11 of Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies voted to remain in the EU is enough for Brokenshire to call one within the next five years (though polling consistently shows that a clear majority of the province’s electorate, including a substantial minority of nationalists, would vote to stay in the UK). They are confident they can win, though, failing that, Molloy envisages it as the first in several referenda on unification.

But beneath the optimism lies the knowledge that the British government are unlikely to heed their calls. And, willingly absent from the Westminster chamber, they say the UK government’s discussions about Brexit are illegitimate. They see their real powerbase as elsewhere: in Dublin’s Dail Eireann, where Sinn Fein is the third largest party, and the chancelleries of Europe.

“That’s where most of the negotiation will actually happen,” says Molloy. “The EU27 will make the decisions. They won’t be made in Westminster, because the British have already set out what they’re doing: they’re leaving.”

But with seven MPs already lobbying ministers and a united Ireland unlikely to happen in the immediate future, Sinn Fein itself won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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