I’m not saying the expenses row is trivial. It is not. Some of the revelations
have been genuinely shocking.
But there is something else going on in Westminster that requires a little
more attention than it is getting. Because it goes to the heart of the
difference between the main parties.
I don’t mean the difference between
Labour claiming for toilet seats, bathplugs and blue movies, while Tories go
for horseshit, moat-cleaning, swimming pools and helipads. No, I mean the
difference between people who support the minimum wage and people who want to
get rid of it.
It took a century’s worth of campaigning to get the minimum
wage on the statute book and I am very proud that it was the Labour government
and Prime Minister I worked for that did it.
And never forget – every single Tory MP voted against it.
So what, you
say? It’s history. Nobody will ever reverse it now.
Oh yeah? Well on Friday a Tory Private Member’s Bill comes back to the House
of Commons. With a nod to Orwell, the Bill, called ‘Employment Opportunities,’
promises to introduce ‘more freedom, flexibility and opportunity for those
seeking employment in the public and private sectors.’
In a nutshell, the bill wants scrap the National Minimum Wage.
The 11 Tories behind it –
including Christopher Chope (brought in the Poll Tax) Peter Bone (who once
boasted of paying his staff 87p an hour) even use the UN Declaration of Human
Rights as a defence. No really!
Chope said when the Bill had its first reading: “Everyone
has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable
conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”Hear hear. So why
are you so opposed to the minimum wage?
The bill also requires all public sector organisations to advertise job
vacancies externally, so that ‘those outside the magic circle would have the
freedom to compete for jobs on an equal basis.’ Again, I can see some merit in
The fact that 9 of those 11 Tory MPs sponsoring the bill employ their own
wives as secretaries was doubtless the result of rigorous employment practices
which went well beyond any magic or marriage circle.
The National Minimum Wage is a great Labour achievement. Every year it’s increased, it benefits more
than a million people – two thirds of them women.
Never ever forget, nor let those women and their families forget, how hard the
Tories fought to stop it happening. ‘Nice’ Michael Howard, with his legendary
commitment to the unemployed and the low paid, said with all the passion he
could muster that it would throw two million on the dole. A Big Lie. To try to
stop a big step forward for Britain.
So where does David Cameron stand on this? As with so much else, how are we
supposed to know?
When Daniel Hannan described the NHS as a ‘sixty year
mistake,’ Dave kept quiet. So will he now come out and denounce these right
wing nut jobs? Or perhaps this is what he means by the age of austerity.
It is true that private members’ bills rarely become law. But to all those
toying with the idea that it is ‘time for a change,’ or those who are just
turned off by politics and so want to kick the government, just remember what
it leads to – a House full of Chopes and Bones and other chumps and boneheads
who never have been and never will be primarily motivated by the people at the
struggling end of the economic ladder.
That’s why I’m glad to see the shopworkers
union Usdaw, UNISON and Go Fourth leading the charge to kill this bill on
Friday with their Wage Concern campaign.
Please sign their petition at www.wageconcern.com.
And however hacked off with politics, politicians, the government,
Labour, your MP you may be, think very carefully about an alternative that
wants to dump such an important and progressive piece of legislation.