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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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war