Four ways to a living wage

Liz Kendall pledges:

As Labour’s next Prime Minister I would extend the legal remit of the Low Pay Commission to work with employers, unions and civil society to identify practical, non-statutory ways to move wages towards the living wage, sector by sector.

Some of the responses to this pledge or not favourable e.g.

“Non statutory”? Sounds a bit like… “and, as leader, I will ask you very nicely, and if you laugh at me and ignore me, I’ll ask you in another letter, in a slightly more serious tone”….

So what would Liz PM’s methods to get toward a living way without legislation, either through the Low Pay Commission or otherwise, actually be?   I think there are four broad options:

1) Increase union bargaining power by removing the restriction imposed by Tory governments (and not removed by the last Labour government)

Hardly likely as a sole act, of course, as this would be seen as unelectability material and in any event in itself would foster a further division at least in the medium term between unionised and un-unionised sectors.  But we’ll come back to unions and unionisation

2) Use public sector purchasing power to drive up wages, by ensuring (by non-statutory means) that all contracts for public money e.g. building jobs in schools, housing associations etc. stipulate that employees must be on a living wage.  Moves towards this are already taking place, though (in my area) reality has struck home about how manageable it is on all local authority contracts.

There are complexities here.  First, blunt implementation by public bodies would probably lead to sub-contracting so that the non-living wage is further down the supply chain (however artificially) and this would require either greater bureaucracies in contract management to manage, thus creating lower contract award diversity.   Second, non-statutory application of the method would probably require the incentivising of public bodies to get on board.  Third, it doesn’t cover all sectors of the economy, even if it is fed through the supply chain, and the creation of a dual economy remains a risk. Fourth, and most obviously, forcing living wages onto low wage sectors through contract conditions may push some organisations out of business (though it may create some room for social enterprise and co-operatives to fill those gaps).

Even so, as part of a larger strategic package (involving localisation of supply chains through local business development support and purchasing ledger scrutiny to encourage sustainability as well as local economic growth) it might have some legs.

3) There’s the fiscal option: simply put an employee tax cut through PAYE and make the same or similar charge on employer NI. Liz PM could/should also take the opportunity to adjust thresholds which currently create a perverse incentive for employers to keep lower paid employees on hours just below the PAYE threshold.

This has its attractions, though it will be painted simply as another way of raising tax on hard-pressed employers unless it is packaged as a fair deal for all, including part-timers currently held back from full-time work.

4) More creatively, a scheme developed during Liz PM’s life in opposition, rooted in union organising principles and ‘ready to go’ in 2020, where employers receive a PAYE rebate if they can evidence that they have voluntarily encouraged unionisation of their workforce (or perhaps co-ownership in some cases), such that unionised workplaces are in a better position to work towards living wage set-ups without recourse either to statutory means or perceived trade union ultra-militancy (see 1).  This can be sold both a tax cut to employers and a route to a wage-led economy.

Against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid

Phil says it’s “clearly …in the interests of our party and our movement” that Jeremy Corbyn gets enough nominations to enter the Labour leadership contest proper.

I’m not sure I agree.

Such doubts are, I hasten to add, not related to Jeremy’s personal qualities.  His combination of integrity and unassumingness has been widely commented on and, while I’ve never met him, I have no reason to think that he is anything other than a principled socialist.

My concern is that, by investing hope and energy in a campaign to get Jeremy into the contest, and then presumably win it, the Labour left is both fetishing leadership and getting distracted from the more important task ahead: creating the proper conditions for the re-emergence of democratic socialist government in Britain.

By the former, I mean exactly what Chris says:

a focus upon ritualistic aspects of “leadership” whilst neglecting the question of how exactly the rituals are related to outcomes.

By the latter, I mean that Labour has little chance of taking power again any time soon unless the hard spade work is done at local institutional level to show that solidaristic action creates real, local material benefit for the working and middle class, and thus get the very many marginal candidates we’ll need to win, if we are to form a government on revised boundaries, over the line [1] No leader, however principled and charismatic, can do that for us, and investing our hopes in Jeremy is just delaying getting started.

If Jeremy was looking to run for Deputy Leader, then I might argue differently; the Deputy Leader post may well offer up opportunities to influence the necessary radical restructuring of Labour party of movement resources, so that we can start a proper ‘ground game’.  It would be interesting to hear his proposals against those of the only existing candidate with potential for such creativity, Stella Creasy [2]

I know I’m swimming against the Labour left tide, here, and I won’t be too saddened if he does get to 35 nominations..  If he does, I hope he will use some of the limelight that he’ll be expected to focus the correct(ish) but largely pointless anti-austerity preaching on what actually counts – how we can rebuild the movement as a producer of politics, from bottom up, and what a PLP, humbler in his image, might do to support that.


[1] A more achievable goal in the medium term may be taking power at sub-national levels, and building extra-state institutions through Trade Councils and Mondragon-style innovation, in concert with local councils etc.  But that’s another post.

[2] I am yet to be convinced of Stella’s conviction or potential for the role, but her past and her understanding of proper engagement suggests she may have what it takes if she is prepared to be humble.


Categories: Labour Party News

This is not us: a reply to Sunny

June 12, 2015 2 comments

Sunny Hundal has come in for praise for his article on the left not understanding or being understandable to the electorate, because it’s been living in an “echo chamber”.

This is us. We have become those people that the public doesn’t understand. We have become more obsessed about being right than succeeding. There’s always someone on Twitter spouting cliches and say they’d rather be principled than worry about winning. This is a false dichotomy and we need to get out of that mindset. We need to change how we talk about issues. We need to talk about issues in radically different ways, in ways the mainstream can relate to.

Well, no.  It isn’t us.  It’s Sunny, and some people like Sunny.  It’s the people who created and live in the echo chamber.  It’s not the rest of the left, which is a lot more than them.

I simply don’t recognise myself in Sunny’s description. I’m leftwing, and proud if it.  I’m also mainstream, as are most of the leftwingers I know.  I understand people, and they understand me. Sometimes we don’t agree, and sometimes we do.

Ultimately, I think the difference between me and Sunny is that I do things, and Sunny comments on things that are being done.

Sure, I like a good comment too, and I was sucked into Sunny’s comment world a little too much a few years ago*, but for the most part I regard the online world as a) a bit of fun; b) a place to test out my developing thoughts about how the left might do good things.  I’m comfortable in my own leftwing skin and – perhaps because of this – I give off a smell of authenticity that helps me win.

But if you’re stuck in a revolving world of commentary and comment feedback, I can imagine it’s very easy to become quite insecure, to make validation and self-validation (checking that you’re being understood) a primary guide to how you behave.  In turn, this leads to voters not knowing what you stand for.   We’ve all heard that accusation on the doorstep.

The commentators I like best are, not coincidentally, those who do things.  I disagree deeply with Anthony Painter on both fiscal policy and how institutions might be created, but he’s a very good commentator because he’s properly rooted in social action outside commentary – as a UTC governor for example.  He understands, and is understood.   But he appears to be one of a very few people within the leftie commentariat able or willing to both think and do**.

Why did Labour lose?  It lost because its candidates, and its local parties, didn’t produce enough.

By “produce”, I don’t mean canvassing and ‘having conversations’ on the doorstep.  That’s not production. That’s marketing.

Nor do I mean a kind of cheap situationalism, in which the electorate is supposed to recover from the false consciousness imposed by the spectacle of capitalism/conservatism (that’s what Sunny has previously suggested as a vote-winning strategy).

By (leftwing) producer politics, I mean taking actions which push at the boundaries of current norms, in favour of and in concert with people who don’t have the power to get what they want on their own.  At local level, that might be about organising lower speed limits.  At less local level, it might be about working with public service staff to help them make their services more “relational” and therefore more effective.

By and large, the Labour candidates who won marginals (or increased votes in less winnable) understood that a political campaign is about doing things, not just telling people you understand where they’re coming from.  Those who stuck too narrowly to the political marketing manual lost.

So yes, Sunny is right when he says that good politics is about winning.   But he’s wrong to suggest that the left don’t get this.  A lot of us do.  He’s just been mixing with the wrong online crowd.



* Sunny used to take articles from here and re-post at his old blog Liberal Conspiracy.   I was wrong to allow that, as it drew me into a comment for comment’s sake world, and didn’t do Sunny any favours either.

** To be fair to Sunny, I know he’s branching out e.g. into trusteeship of an innovative youth action charity in London.  Fair play to him.


Categories: General Politics

On “ever closer union”

One of David Cameron’s key areas of renegotiation on the EU is, in his own words:

And dealing properly with the concept of “ever closer union”, enshrined in the treaty, to which every EU country now has to sign up. It may appeal to some countries. But it is not right for Britain, and we must ensure we are no longer subject to it.

If this is going to come up a lot, it may be handy to remind ourselves what “ever closer union” actually means.  It comes up in article 1 of the Lisbon Treaty:

This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen.

So as and when Cameron starts to spell out the dangers of “ever closer union” between EU states, perhaps with the odd reference to cunning plans for a United States of Europe, we need to remember that the Lisbon treaty contains no such concept.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  It’s about union between people, not states, and about this union being based on devolution of decision making power to the most local possible level.   Closer union is not about centralizing.  It’s about localism.

The ‘principle of subsidiarity‘, by which article 1 is meant to be enacted, is all about a presumption to decision-making at national and sub-national level, and a requirement to show that decision-making at a European level is needed.  Since Lisbon, national parliaments get a say directly on that, as do Cameron’s MEPs.   Perhaps they should just do their job.



Categories: General Politics

White working class educational underachievement: a reply to Wes Streeting

I find this post on white working class educational underachievement, by new MP West Streeting, infuriating.   Having read it through twice, my overriding thought is: “you’re better than this, Wes.”

Here’s  Wes’s central point:

The failure of state education in so many white working class areas is utterly unacceptable. Not to talk about it or to have any answers for how we overcome it, equally so.

There are two errors here.  First, there is the suggestion that no-one, until Liz Kendall came along, has been talking about comparative underachievement by white working class children. This is just wrong.  I’m a Chair of Governors at a maintained secondary school in a predominantly white working class town.  I talk about ‘closing the gap’ a lot with staff.  We look carefully at pupil premium spend to make sure it’s doing the right stuff.  We discuss how we can best arrange what can seem like dizzying number of intervention and support strategies in the context of our ever evolving (because young people evolve) understanding of where those ‘cohorts within cohorts’ are at with their lives.  We’ve made progress [1].  We want to make more. We keep searching, we keep engaging with ‘pupil voice’.

We don’t “not talk about it” because it’s some kind of taboo to do so.  It’s a figment of Wes’s imagination to  suggest that educational inequality is not being talked about by people involved in education. It is, dare I say, just a tad insulting.

But here’s the rub.   It won’t work.  Or it won’t work completely.  Whatever we do, within the confines of our schools, will be insufficient to close the gap.  The research is very clear that educational inequality is, to a very significant extent, rooted in factors beyond the school gates.  Here’s Stewart & Cooper (2013), for example:

Our review indicates clearly that money makes a difference to children’s outcomes. Poorer children have worse cognitive, social behavioural and health outcomes in part because they are poorer, and not just because poverty is correlated with other household and parental characteristics….

Our calculations suggest that closing the gap between FSM households and the average income for non-FSM households would not eliminate the achievement gap, but might be expected to reduce it by more than half.

It’s not all money, of course.  If it was, white students on FSMs wouldn’t, overall, be doing worse exam-wise than students of other ethnicity.   When I look at the students in my town, both in and outside of school, I see how much truth there is in Garth Stahl’s superb study of how white working class boys can make a conscious shift towards underachievement because of the threat to what Giddens would call their ontological security if they overachieve.

The empirical evidence Stahl provides suggests that young people from ‘traditional’ white working class families are victims of Richard Sennett’s ‘culture of the new capitalism’ (pdf )[2], to a greater extent than those who, purely in economic terms, may sometimes appear more vulnerable.

What all this research shows is that schools are only part of the solution.  Classroom education is, as Chris Cook has suggested (and backed with lots of data), the ‘last mile’ stuff.   Acknowledging this is absolutely not an excuse  – it is context.  But it’s a context which Wes, in his rush to claim an “unacceptable” “failure of state education” seems unwilling or unable to countenance, at least until he’s read this blogpost.

This second error is, of itself an unacceptable failure on Wes’s part.  It is unacceptable because effectively indulging in false claims about schools being solely responsible for educational underachievement of white working class kids actually obstacles to doing the right things at a wider societal level – with educators as key partners.   These things include stuff like links with employers of the type that foster aspiration to cool jobs in technology – and there’s some really good stuff going on there, like the marvelously overstretched but willing-as-hell Class Careers.  But they also need to include wider community ‘decision-making’, perhaps rooted in Amartya Sen’s social choice theory, where whole groups of families and others come together and commit to both solidarity and aspiration around educational achievement, and start to build real working relationships with schools in a way which can help students, and their friends, access the cultural capital  they need in today’s difficult-to-navigate network society.

All of this can and will happen (and my schools is going to be part of it) but it will be hampered by people like, Wes, unless they themselves “get with the programme”.

Let’s finish with Wes.

He’s a good guy, with lots of talent.  He won his election when lots lost, so he must get stuff.  If he reads this, I hope he’ll take me calling him an unacceptable failure in good heart, and in the knockabout but productive spirit it’s intended.   But my main worry for Wes is that he’s already being dragged into what I call ‘managerial MP mindset (MMM).

MMM is where MPs, especially those more recently into the trade, come to believe that their main very important job is to demand answers, and find things unacceptable on behalf of their constituents.  Advanced MMM includes not being remotely interested in what people do to make things happen, but just want answers on their desk by 5pm.  It is the very essence of black box managerialism.    Simon Danzcuk, for example, is an expert MMMer – lots of demands for answers around Child Sexual Exploitation in greater Manchester – no obvious interest in fellow (and non-MMM) MP Ann Coffey’s superb research and recommendations [3] about what we might actually resource the tackling and prevention of it [4]

Wes is better than MMM.  He has the energy, know-how and ‘feel’ for what it’s like to be a working class kid of today to actually help develop and resource the wider actions we need to reduce educational inequality, rather than just bleat about schools failing their kids.   It’s his, and lots of his new colleagues’, choice.



[1] 15th most improved school in the North West in 2013, FSM gap narrowed considerably.

[2] Sennett says:

A class difference appears between those laborers – mostly immigrants in the informal or “gray” sector of the economy – who find themselves in a fluid or fragmented economy and those traditional working class people, one protected by pyramidal unions or employers, who have less room for maneuver; in the middle, people fear being displaced, sideline or underused.  The institutional model of the future does not furnish them with a life narrative at work, or the promise of much securiy in the public realm. In the network society, their informal networks are thin (p.132)

[3] Commissioned by Police & Crime Commissioner and non-MMM ex-MP tony Lloyd


[4] We wait to see which way Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, proto-MMM though with real doing-stuff experience behind her, will go.  The early signs, judging by this patronizing guff, were not good:

Now that I am “one of them”, I can report back that Parliament is actually full of normal people who care passionately about representing their constituents and making changes that will have a positive impact on peoples’ lives.  What we need to address is why people don’t believe that’s true, and why people don’t think their voice is heard.



How should Labour campaign for a yes on the EU?

Andy Burnham tweets, in reference to a Daily Mail headline:

One month into 1st Tory Govt for 20 years & already falling apart over EU. Why we need separate Labour Yes campaign

I agree, but I suspect my vision of what a good Labour yes campaign might look like is different from the vacuous nonsense most Labour MPs will come up with in support of EU membership.  This is because I understand a little bit about the EU, while most MPs have not bothered to do any kind of detail on it, and are happy with the soundbites fed to them.

So this is how I’d approach it if I was in charge of such things….(and yes this is largely copied from a post a cuple of years old, because the substantive arguments have hardly moved)

A referendum on membership may not a bad thing for Labour.  As opposed to tactical Cameron’s sham ‘renegotiation’, Labour is free to engage with like-minded European partners on the development of a social democratic alternative/revision to the Lisbon Treaty, and to sell this to the UK electorate in a way which more clearly distinguishes it from the Tories on Europe than it has managed to date.  Francois Hollande will still be in office for most of the period, and and Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark and others have a more than 50% chance, I’d say, of having governments with whom Labour can do business on the development of a centre-left treaty to replace/modify Lisbon.  It is on the basis of a clearly better-for-the-people Treaty that Labour should campaign.

What would a revised, social democratic Lisbon Treaty look like? well, I think six things should be top of the list, reflecting how different a social democratic Europe post-2019 (ie. after the 2019 Euro elections and a possible leftist majority might look):

1) A revised treaty should establish the primacy of the European Parliament as decision-making agenda-setting body, with the European Commission removed from its role as one of the three key bodies involved in the current co-decision making process, and developed into a ‘neutral’ civil service operating under democratic command.

This will set Labour and its fellow European parties aside from the Tories, who under Cameron have stated clearly that the sole legitimate democratic voice in Europe is the intergovernmental European Council of heads of state.  Labour should argue that the Euoprean Parliament, as long as it reforms its election system away from the current regional list system towards one where each MEP represents  distinct constituency, is now the body with the expertise (and Commission support) and legitimacy that is needed to govern the European Union, albeit with due reference to intergovernmental institutions (not just the European Council but also the strangely similarly named Council of the European Union).

This is not just the right thing to do, as it brings into play the importance of parties working across Europe to establish a majority and then coherent policy within the Parliament; it is also tactically useful, because it allows Labour to go into the 2019 European elections on the basis that the Tories and UKIP are actually just putting up ‘gravy-train’ candidates to be members of an institution they don’t even believe in, while Labour candidates actually want to get some work done.

2) The new treaty should create the legal conditions in which the frankly absurd Stability and Growth Pact and the accompanying ‘six-pack’ directive, are subsequently abolished.  These directives are the ones which effectively outlaw Keynesianism by imposing ludicrous constraints on surplus/deficit spending.   The treaty should then set out an alternative framework under which member states are required to use their spending power to maintain and enhance levels of social security, employment and income equality.  Whether this should include numerical targets and some form of sanction for non-compliance, mirroring the surplus/deficit targets/sanctions set out under a neoliberal EU, is open to debate (currently I would favour such).

3) In keeping with this significant change in emphasis to the EU’s role and the legitimacy of the European Parliament, the new treaty should reverse the decision under Lisbon to remove democratic control of the European Central Bank from the Parliament.

4) The treaty should enhance the existing, but ignored provision in Lisbon, to vary single market conditions on a temporary basis so as to allow for a form of artificial devaluation in countries running behind the EU’s economic leaders in terms of citizen incomes in a way which promotes convergence without the self-defeating austerity measures currently being used for that task.  EU structural funds should be used to make this happen.

5) Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in a way which a) gears subsidy to low wealth producers rather than to richer landowners who are able to use the income-based mechanism to rake in the cash; b) creates both long-term sustainability/reliability of supply, in a time of adverse climate change, and affordability i.e. the CAP should effectively become part of universal welfare provision around decent food.  Currently, the Tories have absolutely nothing to say on the CAP, and it is astonishing that Labour appears not to have even noticed how far they are compromised on this by their own vested interests.

6)  The restatement of the principle of free movement of labour, but with protection  from exploitation enhanced by the enactment of something similar to the UK’s Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, but broadened to encompass existing EU procurement law and to cover multi-nationals.

If the Labour leadership gets its collective head round both the short-term tactics of using Cameron’s own reckless ‘renegotiation’ against him, and then starts setting out its distinctive view of a new social democratic EU shaped by it and its fellow leftist parties, it could do well in 2017, and then in the 2019 euros.  I’m not holding my breath, though, that a new Labour leader will actually get beyond the usual vacuities

Categories: Labour Party News

Coasting schools and the new authoritarianism

June 5, 2015 2 comments

There’s something deeply disturbing about section 1 of the new Education & Adoption Bill, according to which the Secretary of State will get to turn a maintained school into an academy if she considers it to be “coasting”.

What’s disturbing is not that this is really just a quick way to turn schools into academies, even though there’s no evidence that this is a good way to improve schools. That just evidence-free policy of the type we’ve come to expect.

It’s not that there is no inkling as to what “coasting” might actually mean and how it might be measured.  That’s now just standard centralisation and of decision-making as developed under Gove (though with the twist that it will be the new Regional Schools Commissioner expected to do the centre’s dirty work).

It’s not even that there is really just no evidence that piling more and more inspectorial pressure on school can squeeze out anything further in the way of improvement.

What’s really disturbing is the subtle shift, from a focus not doing well enough to a focus on schools not giving a sufficient external display of effort.

This, it seems to me, may reflect a move beyond the managerialism of New Labour and its continuation into early New Conservatism, in which outcomes mattered and how you achieved them didn’t, towards a more authoritarian style, in which outcomes matter less than the level of grovelling to those higher up the food chain.

With Ofsted – in the vanguard of this new authoritarianism within education – it’s been there for a while;  I remember, the last time I was subjected to Ofsted, being asked to provide an example of where governors had overturned an executive decision, as though a display of hierarchical power was a good thing in itself, and conversely governance by consensus and dialogue must be weak in some way.

Now that display of compliance is being written into law, though, perhaps we should really start to worry about the state of our democracy.





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