Ed Miliband is shaping the news agenda, unlike his opponents. Photo: Getty
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"Gamed out"? At least Ed Miliband's in the news cycle

Labour's policy review chief was recorded saying his leader is being "gamed out" by the media. But at least Ed's making the news, unlike his political opponents.

Many people in politics over the past few weeks have been saying that the Labour party is having a torrid time. Rumours and leaks of backstabbing and splits in the Labour leader’s circle have sprung up alongside an onslaught of negative commentary about Ed Miliband, both from the media and some within his own party.

One source close to the shadow cabinet tells me that the feeling in the party is “pretty bad”, and that they’d “hate to be a Labour politician right now, least of all Ed Miliband.”

Another Labour figure tells me about factions working against each other within the top tiers of the party, and I’ve heard from a number of insiders about blue on blue (well, red on red) negative briefings from certain Labour frontbench teams.

So it’s not just the press taking opportune pictures of bacon butties. The party is being affected by ragged relations at the top as well, and all this is in spite of a fairly stubborn poll lead.

Following an intervention in the Financial Times by Labour peer and Miliband’s former adviser Maurice Glasman, who accused the leader of “conformist mediocrity” and said the party is missing a “sense of direction”, and Labour policy review chief Jon Cruddas referring to a “dead hand” at the party’s centre blocking reforms, the latter made headlines again last week when a recording of him warning that Miliband is being “gamed out” by the press was leaked to the Telegraph:

“He just gets gamed out every day, every week because of the news cycle, the media, levels of intrusion, the party management side.”

But it only seems as if the Labour leader is being “gamed out” because he’s actually part of the news cycle, setting the news agenda a number of times in the past few weeks from a whole host of policy proposals including a radical shake-up of benefits for young people, transforming local government, wooing business, and a strong stance on rail policy and ownership, among many others.

Of course he’s going to be knocked down occasionally by those opposing his plans, and of course he’s going to have a few bits of data questioned by those scrutinising the proposals of our potential next government. But at least he’s going out there, almost every day, unveiling the plans he’d like to put into action if he were to become prime minister next year.

Miliband’s perseverance, both in powering on with his proposals, and ignoring pops at his personality, is a lot more than we’ve seen any of the other parties doing recently. As the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne wrote earlier this month: “Every day Mr Miliband arrives in his office, takes off his coat, and takes the bullets. I salute him.”

If Miliband is being “gamed out”, then our current PM isn’t even in the game. Where has he been? India? Or was it Scotland? All we’ve seen of our PM, and indeed DPM, is a recent announcement of emergency powers being rushed through for police surveillance – legislation at worst a hurried invasion of our civil liberties and at best a bit of a dull, technical response to some crusty EU directive. And something to do with strikes, which is just a bit passé and Eighties, really.

“I know it looks like Ed’s personal ratings are going down,” a Labour aide admits, “but at least he has ideas. This government is simply not legislating.”

And it’s true. There is very little coming from the coalition frontbench of any interest to the media at least, unless you count the unplanned fire-fighting of stories that suddenly emerge, such as the recent Eighties Westminster paedophile ring allegations, which eventually sprung the Home Secretary into action.

There’s a big, and favourable, contrast between a whole heap of proper policies from Ed Miliband – even if they are being ruthlessly scrutinised ­– and a government that briefed out a tax on plastic bags as the centrepiece of their final Queen’s Speech. Forget "game out", that's called "game over".

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at 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.