Farage blunders as he calls for a "two tier flat tax"

The UKIP surge continues, but don't ask its leader for a coherent tax policy.

With two days to go until the local elections, the UKIP wave shows no signs of receding. The latest YouGov poll puts the party on a record high of 14 per cent, while ComRes has them on 13 per cent. 

The surge in support for Nigel Farage's party means the Tories are prepared for losses well in excess of the 350 seats forecast by election gurus Rallings and Thrasher. The figure of 800 seats that appears in today's Sun can almost certainly be dismissed as expectation management but it's not unreasonable to suggest that the party, which currently holds 26 of the 27 county councils up for election, could lose between 500 and 600. 

A cheery Farage was on the Today programme this morning, happily informing listeners that his party's membership has risen by 50 per cent this calendar year. After another UKIP election candidate was accused of being an extremist (in this case, wielding a knife on the front of today's Daily Mirror), Farage conceded that it "doesn't look very pretty" but insisted that it was just one of "a couple of very bizarre cases".

That doesn’t look very pretty, I agree with you, and we have had, out of our 1,700 candidates, a handful who have embarrassed us, mostly because they simply haven’t told us the truth, but we are the only party in British politics who actually forbid former members of the BNP or extreme organisations from even becoming members of UKIP, let alone candidates and, in one or two cases, people haven’t told us the truth.

He added, however: "We have done what due diligence we can at branch level - if people seemed to be very, very odd we didn’t accept them but we have taken people on faith. We don’t have the resources to trawl through absolutely everybody’s social media sites and that has led to one or two embarrassments."

But it was on the tricky subject of tax policy that Farage came unstuck. After last week distancing himself from his party's general election policy of a 31 per cent flat tax rate, the UKIP leader introduced us to the oxymoronic concept of a "two tier flat tax". One was left with the impression of a man making it up as he goes along (and trying to have it both ways). But for now, ever more appear prepared to come with him. 

Editor's note, 31 March 2017: A reference to a named person was removed after police announced no further action would be taken in their case. 

UKIP leader Nigel Farage speaks at the party's 2013 Spring Conference in the Great Hall, Exeter University. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.