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Theresa May's manifesto: a mixture of the dangerous, the calculated and the brave

The Conservatives' pledges on social care are genuinely redistributive - but they may struggle in the Commons. 

Theresa May is up north to launch the Conservative manifesto today, but some of the contents have been announced early.

Here are the big items, in order of surprise factor: the target to get net immigration to Britain down to the tens of thousands lives is still in there. If achieved, it would create a black hole far larger than anything contained in the Labour and the Liberal Democrat manifestos - the OBR put the cost of even a fall of 80,000, light years away from the target, at an extra £6bn worth of borrowing a year - but the PM is genuinely committed to it, so in it goes.

What a lot of analyses of the pledge are missing is this, however: when May was at the Home Office, her feeling there was that the target could be met provided that Downing Street stopped giving into special pleading from other government departments. We should take this pledge a great deal more seriously - and expect it to be pursued more relentlessly - than when it was a tactical wheeze of David Cameron and George Osborne.

Slightly more surprising is the commitment to scrap universal free school meals at primary school and replace them with free school breakfasts. The measure will save money as the original policy committed schools to "hot" meals which meant greater outlay on kitchens and so on. As far as the election goes, it may be the most significant pledge in the short-term. It also allows the Conservatives to cancel their planned changes to the school funding formula. A glance at the average Labour MP's Facebook feed should give you a clue as to why - many are effectively running single issue campaigns against the planned cuts to their local schools. (It's not just Labour MPs, either - in a slightly surreal development, education minister Edward Timpson is campaigning against the changes, too.

But the biggest and most surprising announcement is about social care. People will have to pay the cost of their own care until their assets are below £100,000, although they will be able to defer the sale of their homes until after they die.  It's a hugely radical and progressive change to the system. To give you an idea of the scale of the change, the plan is close to identical to the one that Andy Burnham proposed in 2010, but minus the concessions Labour chucked in as part of a failed attempt to secure cross-party agreement on care.

Frankly if Labour did it, the Mail's splash would just be a series of asterisks and an exclamation mark. Here's their splash: "You Won't Have To Sell Home To Pay For Your Care". (Provided that your house isn't worth more than £100,000 doesn't seem to have made it onto the frontpage. Perhaps there wasn't space.)

It is a huge shift away from the Cameron-era approach of building Conservative majorities on the back of ever-increasing redistribution from the old, who vote in great numbers and are more well-distributed across the country, and away from the young, who vote less and are clustered together in fewer seats.

Of course, May has a special place in the Mail's heart and the record-breaking disapproval ratings that Jeremy Corbyn has with the elderly ought to inoculate her against any electoral backlash.

There's a "but" coming, and it's a big one: even with the thumping majority suggested by the polls, can they do it, really? I may be talking to an unrepresentative sample of Conservative candidates, but the new intake in the party's target seats look to be drawn from across the Tory firmament. They haven't been selected for loyalty to Mayism, though of course most know what an asset she is on the doorstep. But there are many more orthodox Conservatives than there are true believers in May's new model Conservatism.

Yes, the care crisis has grown more acute since David Cameron branded Labour's plans a "death tax". But even with a landslide majority Margaret Thatcher couldn't touch Sunday trading and came a cropper over the poll tax. Even a Conservative government with a triple-digit majority may find it harder than we expect to make every pensioner in London sell their home to pay for the cost of their care.

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

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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.