The parties should be figuring out ways to make people want to jump into the world of work. Photo: Getty
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Why we can no longer say any job is a good job

The political issues of work are not just employment and low pay; the idea of good work is also gaining political momentum, and should play a big role in policy after 2015.

Recently, a friend of mine lost his job. He worked for a small, trendy start-up and, along with many other employees, was paid far less than his employers. The business recently folded due to money-mismanagement, pricing of their products and a confused identity. The business also happened not to pay their employees for their last moth of work.

When the employees were given notice that the business would be closing, they were told by one of the business’s founders, who had just arrived in his new sports car. Although the sports car part of this story is perhaps unusual, the rest speaks to the insecure nature of work in modern day Britain. 

A recent poll in the Guardian looked into the anxiety felt by many over the economy. According to the poll, 56 per cent of people said that they believed economic recovery is underway but less than one in five said that they felt that were benefitting from this. Looking into the root causes of economic anxiety, the poll found that 46 per cent of people felt that because of migrant labour undercutting wages, closely followed by 42 per cent who believed the fault lay with "ruthless companies". As for the major worries that people had about working life in Britain, the gap between wages and the cost of living scored highest, followed by fear of redundancy, lack of permanent posts and inadequate pensions amongst many other concerns. Although the cost of living was the top concern, worries around the insecurity of work also ranked highly, which begs the question, how do we tackle issues of the quality of work alongside low pay?

The Labour party is fast approaching its National Policy Forum, where the policy review, led by Jon Cruddas will be presenting their stream of research on work. The policy review recently hosted a symposium where they discussed an ongoing project looking into the world of work with the Smith Institute. The purpose of the research is not just to look at the issue of low pay but also the average and normal experiences of work. More intangible ideas like job satisfaction are being prioritised alongside the more traditional concerns of unemployment, underemployment, low pay and job security.

The Labour party are not the only ones interested in this area of policy The Work Foundation is launching research later in the year into insecurity in the work place. The Green Party also wants to see reforms to the world of work, with their aim to see the UK move closer to the situation of mainland Europe, where the average working week is shorter and where greater emphasis is placed on worker’s rights and low pay is more fervently tackled. This week, the Greens released a statement on the Living Wage Commission, backing the recommendations to the hilt as a means of tackling in-work poverty. This all supports the idea that the political movement toward "good work" is one that is slowly but surely picking up steam.  

Prioritising the quality of work helps to answer the question of what will come after the "cost of living crisis". There is often an assumption politically that any job is better than no job, but as someone once said to me, we used to put young boys up chimneys because labour was so cheap and workers' worth so low. While the coalition government is determined to push people off benefits, Labour should be figuring out ways to make people want to jump into the world of work; the party needs to live up to its namesake and put quality of work front and centre. All we need now is for Ed Miliband to live up to the legacy of his party and put "good work" policies into next year’s manifesto. 

Dan Holden is deputy editor of Shifting Grounds

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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred