A happy Nigel Farage. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid
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Why "more Tory than the Tories" attacks on Ukip aren't working

Ukip voters care less about policy than supporters of any other party.

“More Tory than the Tories” is Labour’s official attack line against Ukip. The party likes to refer to Ukip as “the Tories on speed”, reckoning that this is the best way to win back those flirting with Ukip.

Viewed through the narrow lens of policy, it perhaps makes little sense for voters for whom the Conservatives are too right wing economically to plump for Ukip. Nigel Farage is a former Conservative party member. So is his number two, Paul Nuttall, Suzanne Evans, the de facto number three who is in charge of writing the manifesto, Steven Woolfe, Ukip’s migration spokesman and, along with Nuttall, the man leading Ukip’s assault on Labour in the north. And the party’s first two MPs are Conservative defectors.

This is the basis for Labour attacking Ukip as a party of uber-Thatcherities.

But this strategy for winning back Ukip votes has an underlying problem. Ukip voters care less about policy than supporters of any other party, as Philip Cowley recently outlined. If voters don't care much about policy, emphasising policy is not the way to win them back.

What unites very disparate Ukip supporters is a shared loathing of the political class. They will not be impressed by petty name-calling of the sort that politicians have such expertise in. Indeed, this brings a profound risk: every time Ukip voters hear “More Tory than the Tories” or “Vote Ukip, Get Labour” it reinforces their loathing of how mainstream politicians operate. Far from winning them back, it reminds them of why they left in the first place.

Something similar is true where immigration is concerned. Ukip voters who feel betrayed by politicians facilitating mass immigration – all the while insisting that they were doing nothing of the sort – have no time for politicians pledging to curb immigration. They see no reason to believe anything has changed until they can see it for themselves. This is why tub-thumping on immigration from mainstream parties is no way to win Ukip voters back.

Rather than being about policy, Ukip is better understood as a revolt against the political class. Its supporters crave a new political culture. Warnings about the consequences of voting for someone else risk reinforcing the notion that they need to turn to Ukip to get it.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.