Theresa May on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Universal credit is being used as a hit on the self-employed

The Conservatives are no friend of small businesses in this election, says Labour candidate Seema Malhotra.

If you thought that Theresa May would be supporting small businesses and the self-employed if she wins this election, think again. Not only has Theresa May hit small businesses hard in the last parliament, but much more is set to come.

The Conservatives have lost credibility with the public with their un-costed manifesto, their U-Turn over the dementia tax, and their threat to jump off the Brexit cliff edge on the basis that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” It’s not surprising we reach the end of the election campaign with a narrowing of the polls and Theresa May with considerable damage to her reputation and trust.

But the drop in trust with business must now be causing further earthquakes in Conservative Central Office. On Monday I spoke at a business hustings organised by the Hounslow Chamber of Commerce. My Tory opponent struggled to do anything other than hold to a tight Tory script about Theresa May – a script wearing so thin you could almost see right through it.

The Daily Telegraph last week headlined and article with “Tory policies slammed by SMEs as bad for business”. The piece described how “a vanishingly small proportion of companies support the manifesto”.

May is no friend of business – she has presided over increases in business rates hitting local businesses in my community and across the country hard. And her proposed increase in National Insurance contributions was brought in without consultation or engagement.

During this election a further hit on business and the self-employed has emerged from mums at the school gate who have approached me with heartbreaking stories about the impact that Universal Credit is having on their lives. One mum described how after the move to Universal Credit she can no longer plan the household budget.

The reason is because of the way UC has been implemented. If her partner has good earnings in one month, their universal credit is reviewed and the award reduced for the following month. If in that month her partner had a low income, then any rebalancing won’t take place for another month. The fluctuation in income has resulted in her family being pushed to use foodbanks when they can no longer make ends meet. Something she had never expected to happen to her and her children.

That woman's experience is backed up by new analysis we have undertaken suggests that one million self-employed workers face £1,500 cut because of “hidden” universal credit rules for the self-employed. Figures buried in documentation from the Office for Budget Responsibility suggest that the operation of a “minimum income floor” which is used to estimate the earnings of the self-employed for the purposes of calculating the UC payment is expected to save the Government £1.5bn by 2022 – effectively costing around one million self-employed workers as much as £1,500 a year.

It is nothing short of a “hidden raid” on self-employed workers’ incomes in the wake of the Government’s abandoned attempt to increase their National Insurance Contributions.

A growing proportion of Britain’s workforce are self-employed, accounting for much of the new employment we have seen in recent years, and in many cases being the local businesses that are the backbone of our local economy as well as the innovative businesses upon which our future productivity and competitiveness depends. In Feltham and Heston the number of self-employed people has doubled over the past 15 years.

But instead of putting in place the support that could allow us to make the most of their hard work and initiative, the Tories are making life harder and harder for them.

It has become clear that Universal Credit is being used by the Government as cover for another hidden raid on self-employed workers’ incomes – and on polling day, we should send that message loud and clear.

Seema Malhotra is the Labour and Cooperative Candidate for Feltham and Heston, Vice President of Labour Business and former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.