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John McDonnell wants to defend pensioners - but will they return the favour?

McDonnell senses a chink in the Tories' armour. 

A 34th birthday is associated with hangovers, impending middle age – and voting Conservative. That last bit is according to YouGov, which says the age of 34 is a “tipping point” at which voters are more likely to favour the Conservatives over Labour. For every ten years older a voter is, their chance of voting Conservative rises by roughly 8 per cent, and the chance of them voting Labour decreases by 6 per cent.

Labour’s shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell (65), wants to change that. He jumped on the Tories’ manifesto plans to remove some of the generous universal benefits pensioners enjoy. At a press conference a day later, he posed beneath a Labour poster of a figure with three boxing gloves. Pensioners, McDonnell declared, are facing “a triple whammy” from Theresa May. 

McDonnell senses a chink in the Mayan armour. He spent the bulk of the press conference talking about the cuts to winter fuel allowance. “I don’t want our pensioners to be cold this winter,” he said. Means testing such a vital benefit, he argued, would make pensioners less likely to claim and cost more in terms of administrative charges. He cited Resolution Foundation prediction that 10 million pensioners would be affected.

While all but the coolest millennial cannot help but be moved by freezing pensioners, younger voters are unlikely to feel quite so sympathetic about the other policies at stake. Labour is now defending the triple lock – the pledge to raise the state pension by 2.5 per cent, the rate of inflation, or average earnings, whichever is highest. Pensioners are much more likely to own their own homes. The typical pensioner household is £20 a week better off than the typical working age household. 

In the press conference, McDonnell argued that Labour will be looking after working families by scrapping the Bedroom Tax, reinstating housing benefit for young people and other measures. Abolishing university tuition fees will be a boon for one group of young (mostly middle class) voters in particular. This is unlikely to convince young taxpayers long overdue a wage increase. 

Still, while McDonnell’s defence of middle class pensioners may be economically wonky, it is politically astute. A poll by Old Mutual Wealth found a third of over 55s were less inclined to vote Conservative if the triple lock was at risk. And pissing off millennials is a low-risk strategy for Labour. After all, another thing goes up with your age – your likelihood of voting in the first place.

 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.