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Politicians have spent years bribing boomers, so what's wrong with bribing millennials too?

About time somebody did.

All sorts of terrible opinions are flying around in the wake of last week’s election result. Over the weekend, I spotted both “This was a mandate for Hard Brexit” and “The DUP have always been our friends” in the wild, which suggests to me that several prominent members of the Tory commentariat may have been, unbeknown to the rest of us, suffering from severe oxygen starvation for quite some time.

Perhaps the most infuriating bad take, though, and certainly one of the most prevalent, is that the Labour Party’s 40 per cent share of the vote was gained entirely by bribing millennials to vote for it. Former Downing Street communications director Andy Coulson was scathing in GQ, accusing Jeremy Corbyn of making a “deeply cynical offer to buy those young votes with a promise to drop tuition fees”. My old mate Daniel Hannan MEP put it even more strongly, writing an article for the Washington Examiner under the headline, “Young Brits vote for free stuff”.

As you’d expect, for an argument made by Daniel Hannan, this is complete and utter bullshit of the most self-serving and least thoughtful kind.

Firstly, while we don’t yet have the complete data, it’s already clear that far too many votes swung to Labour for the result to be explained entirely by young people voting for anything. Youth turnout does seem to have been up (witness the swing in university seats); but Labour also received a big swing among people aged 25-44.

Even the bottom end of this age group is significantly too old to benefit from free tuition fees. Why an overwhelmingly pro-European generation who can’t afford houses should have voted against the Conservative Party is one of life’s little mysteries, I guess.

Secondly, it’s patronising. It assumes that young people could only have voted Labour because they stand to benefit personally from its policies – rather than, say, they believe in well-funded public services or a welfare safety net. These columnists seem to think that people could only vote the way they do for selfish reasons: I fear that may say more about them than it does about the generation they’re deriding.

My real problem with their argument, though, is this: what is actually wrong with voting for a party that you believe will spend money in ways that will benefit you? I suppose you can frame that as “bribery” if you want, but then, to the first approximation, every manifesto in history has gone out of its way to somehow bribe somebody or another. (One exception, to be fair, seems to have been Theresa May’s recent effort; this may go some way to explaining the events of the last week.)

There is of course a generation that our politicians have gone out of their way to throw goodies at over a period of decades. In their youth, the British offered them free education, university grants and generous unemployment benefits. As they grew up, it ensured they had access to home ownership, and as they got older, it cut their taxes. When the private pension system hit trouble, it encouraged them to buy other people’s houses too, and, terrified of losing their votes, it created the “triple lock” to guarantee the value of the state pension.

The logical corollary of all the terrible “Corbyn buys the votes of the young” takes is that, somehow, offering financial incentives to vote for a particular party is some dreadful new phenomenon in British politics. But it isn’t: successive governments have been bribing the vast baby boomer electorate to vote for them for more than 40 years.

This might have been fine when wages were soaring. For the last decade or so, though, they’ve flat-lined: boomer-centric policies have meant asking millennials to pay for their parents to have privileges they are unlikely to have for themselves.

I don’t believe for a moment that Corbyn’s manifesto cynically bought the votes of the young. But I rather wish it had. It’s about time somebody thought them worth bribing.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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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.