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The comedian Russell Brand was interviewed on Newsnight last night about his book, which you can watch above.
One headline is that Brand casually implies 9/11 was an inside job because George Bush had links to the Saudis, before half-heartedly back-tracking.
But I was more depressed by the first 10 minutes of conversation, and I want to explain why because I think this matters in a wider context.
In the debate Evan Davis wants to ask Brand a simple question: what is the alternative you propose? The comedian, who has apparently written an entire book calling for a revolution, doesn’t have a straight answer. Brand says the current system isn’t working (partly true) and points to activism by others challenging the consensus.
Brand says he is merely a high-profile voice and his job is to amplify the work of others. I think that’s fair enough.
But Davis has a more profound question that Brand clearly doesn’t want to answer. My version of that question goes like this: If you want to replace the current system of capitalism with something else, who is going to make your jeans, iPhones and run Twitter?
I.e. capitalism clearly has downsides, but it also leads to products that people really want to use. The desire for profit has led companies like Apple, Levi’s and Twitter to create popular products that – especially in the case of social media – we can sometimes even use for free (in return for being forced to watch advertising, of course).
In the debate, Evan Davis asks Brand about the fact that wages have historically gone up: making billions of people richer and allowing them to afford products like fridge freezers, TVs and iPhones. Brand’s response is: “Mate, I ain’t got time for a bloody graph“.
And then there are other responses that suggest he is blindly oblivious to his own privilege.
Russell Brand says stop paying your mortgage or going to work. Let me know how that works out for you pic.twitter.com/OoMnD2d5c7
— Anita Singh (@anitathetweeter) October 21, 2014
The problem I have with Russell Brand is that his style of politics is anti-intellectualism on an epic scale. He isn’t just leaving the heavy lifting to others, he casually dismisses facts like they are irrelevant.
Yes, our capitalist system is breaking down and our democracy has many flaws with it. But any discussion that starts with the premise that we need a revolution to over-throw the system must at least have a response to the inevitable: “and replace it with what?”
This isn’t to say I’m in favour of unadulterated capitalism or that I think cooperatives, mutuals, non-profit groups or social enterprises have no place. In fact we need far more of them. But, in effect, the Russell Brand critique is mild because all it really wants is a bit less of what is currently on offer a bit more of… some nice things that other people are asking for. To dress that up as a ‘revolution’ is plainly fatuous.
The establishment humours Russell Brand because he poses little threat to the system. Newsnight has him on because he’s good for their ratings, not because they want to bring down the system too. The lack of an effective critique means that people will listen to him, glaringly see the obvious contradictions and unanswered questions, and dismiss the Left as over-privileged white guys who don’t want to work but want their iPhones anyway.
A few years ago, I was going past the occupation of Parliament Square. I was quite defensive of the activists in the media and wanted to spend a bit of time just getting to know them. Bad idea. I came in being quite sympathetic, but soon realised that some of the people there only spoke in cliches and hadn’t actually looked into the nuances of what they were saying. The woman I was talking to seemed to think everything was a conspiracy. Soon she was joined by some people who firmly believed 9/11 was an inside job. I made an hasty exit. Of course, every group has its share of cranks but it was a very sobering experience.
If Brand gets more apolitical people to question the world they’re in, then great. But I worry about something else: that there’s a broader slide towards anti-intellectualism among lefties where facts don’t matter and smart critiques are junked in favour of cliches. The world is a messy place and our politicians are very flawed people. But we have to work (sometimes within the system) to continually reform it and improve it, not wait around for some vague revolution that will never come. If the end result is the UKIP-isation of the Left then I don’t want any part of that revolution.
Also worth reading: Why Owen Jones is wrong to suggest that criticism of Russell Brand is merely ‘snottiness’ — by Abi Wilks
In the Observer today, I debate Nick Cohen on whether the Tricycle Theatre in London was right to ask the UK Jewish film festival to ‘reconsider’ its funding from the Israeli government.
There are two additional points I want to make that I didn’t have the space for.
The slippery slope
Nick Cohen ends by writing:
From George Galloway declaring Bradford an “Israel-free zone” to Islamists in the East End of London raising jihadist flags, a dangerous antisemitic mood is growing. By defending worthless bureaucrats who intimidate a Jewish – not an Israeli but a Jewish – festival because it won’t accept their double standards, you are adding to it – thoughtlessly, I am sure.
My response to him is this:
I think the slippery slope argument is worth keeping in mind, but I don’t think we are there yet. You have been criticised plenty of times for demonising Muslims and contributing towards an Islamophobic atmosphere too, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate the irony.
We can all stand up against racism while rejecting tainted money. I fully condemn Galloway and his ilk, and I believe my voice carries more weight because I also condemn the attacks in Gaza. If the slippery slope argument was carried towards its full logical conclusion every time, then you (Nick Cohen) and others (including myself), would not be allowed to criticise Islamists for fear it would further inflame Islamophobia.
Nick Cohen applies this standard to Jews but not Muslims
‘Asking Jews to take a stance on Israel’
The other key point made by critics of Tricycle is that by asking the UKJFF to reject Israeli funding, Jews as a whole are being take a stance on Israel.
But let’s flip this around. That stance implies we can’t ask Muslim groups to reject Saudi money because that’s asking them all to state their allegiance regarding the Saudis.
It would also mean no Hindu or Indian group could be criticised for taking Indian government money, even though there may be several good reasons in certain circumstances for doing so. Persian groups wouldn’t have to account for Iranian money… and so on.
That would make it near impossible to debate the influence of foreign money because this charge could be raised by almost any ethnic group at any time.
I don’t think Tricycle raised the issue because they wanted all Jews to take a side. It was a legitimate response to the pressure they had given the ongoing conflict.
The first time I was invited on to a debate on TV, I was so nervous I couldn’t stop myself shaking. It was partly nerves and partly the topic. It was Christmas 2005, and a theatre in Birmingham had to abandon a play because a large mob of angry Sikhs had gathered in protest outside, and some had broken the windows. All this because they said it insulted their religion.
Of course, the play – Behzti (‘shame’) – didn’t insult Sikhism, it merely depicted rape in a Gurdwara (temple) on stage. Self-appointed community leaders were aghast and spread rumours that the writer, a Sikh woman, was 1) an attention seeker 2) had a black boyfriend and wanted to deliberately insult Sikhs 3) wasn’t really a Sikh. I wrote angry editorials (as editor of the industry journal Asians in Media mag, then) that Behzti should not be shut down and angry Sikhs should learn to live with perceived insults to their faith. The play got shut down because the theatre and the local police were too scared to stand up to fundamentalists.
There have been plenty of controversies since, involving British Hindus and Muslims too.
The latest one involves Maajid Nawaz, a Lib Dem candidate and head of the anti-terrorism think-tank Quilliam Foundation, who tweeted a picture of the Jesus & Mo cartoons, which depicts both figures as stick drawings. Some Muslims are outraged and want Maajid de-selected. One of the instigator, another self-appointed ‘community leader’, boasted that he would inform Islamic countries in the Middle East about Nawaaz. It doesn’t get more comical than this.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learnt: it’s that most religious Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in Britain still don’t understand freedom of speech. They pay lip service to free speech, of course, but the minute they feel their religion is being insulted, they want to see it censored. I’m not referring to ordinary people here – I’m referring to the ones who are more religious than normal. They are the ones who go the extra effort of mobilising others to be offended.
Let me be blunt.
If you appreciate the freedom to practice religion, then you should embrace freedom of speech.
If you appreciate the fact that Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims broadly have the same right as Christians, then you should embrace freedom of speech.
If you think people shouldn’t be locked up for expressing fringe and perhaps unpopular opinions, then you should embrace free speech.
And yes, all of these mean you have to accept the right of others to say things you may find hurtful or insulting to your religion. That’s how it works.
You cannot have a relatively free society without the freedom to insult and antagonise religious people. You cannot create a well functioning secular society without the right to insult religion. Otherwise, you end up like Pakistan, which plans to execute a mentally ill British man for being ‘blasphemous’.
I’m not saying Christians understand this fully (the Daily Mail constantly whines about insults to Christian sensibility); neither am I saying that non-religious Brits have this nailed down (people have been harassed for saying offensive things or just making jokes).
I am saying that minorities should be especially pro-free-speech, because when freedom of speech is curtailed, it is used against minorities first. And that freedom speech does and should always include the right to insult religion and religious figures.
You have a right to be offended.
You don’t have a right to censorship. You don’t have the right to shut down a play, close down an exhibition, stop a book being sold, or stop someone from speaking peacefully or holding a demo. And yes, that includes the likes of the EDL.
I’m really sick of some people acting like village thugs and demanding people listen to them because they feel insulted. No. No one cares if you feel hurt, especially if its over your religion. The rest of us don’t care how important it is to you – the right to insult and have free speech is far more important.
At the time of the Behzti play controversy, I was invited to a debate on BBC Asian Network where some Sikh ‘human rights’ organisation claimed they were going to sue the writer (herself a Sikh!) for inciting violence against Sikhs. I kid you not. I laughed in their face, on radio. That is how seriously these people should be taken. Their proposed plan never got anywhere of course.
by Stewart Lansley
Later this week, the government’s social mobility and child poverty commission will report that middle-class children from families with above average incomes are set to become materially less well off in adulthood than their parents.
For a growing number this is old news – it has been reality for a small but rising proportion of the working population for years. Growing numbers of the young have already had to face much bleaker life chances than their parents: a more treacherous job market, lower pay and fewer chances of advancement. On top of this they also face shrinking housing opportunities, a weakening safety net and a more punitive benefit system.
Across Britain, adverts to work in cinemas or in coffee shops attract thousands of applications, despite the jobs on offer being low paid and often temporary. Even short-term Christmas jobs in warehouses are hugely oversubscribed. With sometimes up to 200 chasing every job, the search for work in Britain has become increasingly futile.
Such trends are imposing profound social and economic costs. They are capping opportunities and trapping more of the workforce into poverty. On top of this, they are weakening the incentive to work and putting a growing strain on the benefit system.
While the global crisis has exacerbated these trends, they have much deeper roots. The last thirty years have seen a shrinking earnings pool, a doubling of the numbers on low pay, the decline of labour’s bargaining power, deindustrialization, a much more individualised social and economic culture and a housing market that benefits the already well-housed.
Three decades ago, the UK was one of the most equal countries in the world. Today it is one of the most unequal, with the proceeds of growth increasingly colonised by a small corporate and financial elite, leaving most of the rest with a shrinking share of the cake, greatly polarising life chances in the process.
Those who have suffered most are those with parents on low and middle incomes, the very groups who prospered most in the immediate post-war era.
Before the war, the social shape of Britain looked like a pyramid, with a small top and a large group at the bottom. By the 1970s it had turned into a diamond shape with a much larger and more prosperous middle. Today the ‘diamond` has gone, replaced by a contorted ‘hourglass’ with a small bulge at the top, a long thin stem in the middle, and a fat bulge at the bottom.
The impact of these trends can be seen most forcefully in the US, where the reversal of opportunities began in the mid-1970s. With incomes stagnating, the size of the middle has shrunk by more than a tenth since 1980. With large numbers of the current generation now facing lower living standards than their parents, more and more US citizens express a ‘fear of falling`, exposing as a myth one of the country’s once most widely shared values – the much vaunted ‘American Dream’.
Britain is not far behind. Here the ‘fear of falling’ has been mostly confined to those in the lower half of the income ladder. Middle class professionals – a group that sits somewhat above the ‘squeezed middle` – have largely been protected. That may be about to change.
With a third of graduates now in permanent non-graduate jobs – many from middle class backgrounds – the tightening cap on aspirations may already be spreading upwards.
Stewart Lansley is a visiting fellow at Bristol University and the author of The Cost of Inequality
by Andy May
It was a strange feeling watching this week’s Labour conference. Once a political enemy, I could conceivably be voting for the party in 2015.
I joined the Liberal Democrats over a decade ago, and worked for two MPs. My parents are founder members of the SDP. I won’t go into my reasons for leaving – these are self-evident. Clegg is the best recruiting sergeant that disaffected centre-left voters Labour could ever want.
Instead let’s concentrate on five things Labour might do to convince the swathe of progressives who voted Lib Dem in 2010. These people hold the key to a Labour victory in 2015. Many of them, like me, are as yet undecided.
I have discounted the obvious… like not privatise the NHS or entrench inequality in education – plus there has been enough on energy already!
Here are five that specifically push Lib Dem buttons:
1. The Economy
Totemic policies such as the introduction of the minimum wage in the early Blair years have been eclipsed in the minds of voters by mismanagement and light touch regulation in the run up to the financial crash. Ed Balls made a shrewd move towards rehabilitation by announcing he would submit Labour’s spending plans to the Office for Budget Responsibility. But more reassurance will be needed. I want to see the positive role of the state championed without the irresponsible spending and incompetent implementation that came with the Blair era.
2. Environmental policy
Invest in renewables not fracking; tackle energy inefficiency in homes and vehicles; properly fund the Green Investment bank. Plenty more where that came from, but with the Lib Dems in government supporting a dash for gas and failing on initiatives such as the Green deal, Miliband has an opportunity to outflank my former party.
3. Democracy, lobbying and big money in politics.
Miliband is one of the most progressive leaders Labour has ever had on constitutional issues. He deserves more credit than he got for supporting Yes2AV, after fierce opposition from many in his party. He must support PR in the House of Lords, or local government along with party funding reform and lobbying transparency. This will only get noticed by 5-10% of the electorate, but many will be those all-important ex Lib Dem voters. To achieve this some in Labour will need to understand their party does not have a monopoly on progressive political thought.
Most of my twenty and thirty something friends cannot conceive of a time they could afford a deposit. 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 is welcome – the difficulty will be doing this in a sustainable manner that doesn’t wreck the same communities that would benefit from fresh housing stock. Frankly anything sounds good compared to the Governments half-baked Help to Buy scheme.
5. Civil Liberties
When Sadiq Khan claims Labour now the party of civil liberties all I can do is think back to 28 days detention, ID cards, illegal rendition… and laugh. I think it naïve to make such a claim although Sadiq’s personal record is commendable. Labour need to show they not succumb to scaremongering by the shadowy figures in the home office bureaucracy with clear human rights based framework to privacy and security, rejecting the authoritarian excesses of the last Labour government.
Here’s hoping Ed can do it if Clegg cannot. -his speech certainly warmed the cockles of my heart.
I and other social liberals and democrats would prefer not to be stuck in the political wilderness for the rest of our lives.
Andy May is a communications consultant, and formerly worked in as a constituency organiser for the Liberal Democrats.
The think-tank Institute of Employment Rights has today published a set of policy proposals to strenthen the labour movement and collective bargaining in the UK.
They point out that economic growth and resilience is strengthened by the resulting increase in demand for businesses’ services and products when income inequality is reduced.
The ten-point manifesto is aimed at Labour MPs
1) A Ministry of Labour should be established: to give working people a voice in government to counteract the voice of powerful corporate interests. One of the duties of the new department will be to promote collective bargaining;
2) ACAS should encourage sectoral collective bargaining: Legislation should be introduced to delegate from the proposed Ministry of Labour to ACAS (or a similar body) the duty to encourage the establishment of sectoral collective bargaining;
3) Employers should be encouraged to participate in collective agreements: The legislation should include measures designed to oblige all employers to participate in these arrangements, including a provision that participation is a pre-condition of the award of all public contracts;
4) Sectoral bargaining should determine pay and conditions: The legislation relating to sectoral bargaining should make provision for the determination of pay and other working conditions, provide procedures for the resolution of disputes, and deal with skills, training and productivity;
5) Sectoral bargaining agreements should be inderogable: The legislation relating to sectoral bargaining should provide for the legalisation of sectoral agreements, so that the appropriate terms of the agreements in question become inderogable terms and conditions of all workers in the sector;
6) CAC should resolve disputes about sectoral boundaries: The legislation relating to sectoral bargaining should include a power vested in the CAC to resolve disputes about sectoral boundaries, and to determine which collective agreement is applicable to which employer in case of disputes;
7) The new scheme should be implemented gradually and flexibly: The statutory scheme providing for sectoral bargaining should be implemented gradually and flexibly, the agencies responsible for its development being empowered to respond to the specific needs of each sector; in industries without the apparent infrastructure to support collective bargaining, wages councils should be instituted;
8) Trade unions should be recognised where 10% of the workforce are members: There should be an overhaul of the statutory recognition procedure so that trade unions are entitled to be recognised by an employer on demonstrating 10% membership and evidence of majority support verified by the CAC;
9) Every trade union should have the right to bargain on behalf of its members: When that threshold for recognition on behalf of a defined bargaining unit is not met there should be a statutory right of every trade union to recognition by an employer to bargain on behalf of its members;
10) Every worker should have the right to be represented by their trade union: The existing statutory right to be accompanied should be overhauled so that every worker has the right to be represented by his or her trade union on all matters relating to his or her employment.
The ten-point manifesto has already attracted the official backing of Unite, Unison, GMB, NUT, PCS, CWU, UCU, RMT and ATL.
Last Friday, the Green Alliance published their review of the three major political parties’ activity on the environment since May 2010. The “Green Standard 2013” makes disappointing reading for all parties – but for none more so than the Conservatives.
On becoming Prime Minister in 2010, David Cameron said he would lead the “greenest government” ever. He described the existence of a fourth, mysterious minster at the Department for Energy & Climate Change, “who cares passionately about this agenda – and that is me, the prime minister. I mean that from the bottom of my heart”.
Yet despite such reassurances, Cameron’s own Chancellor has repeatedly suggested that environmental progress would compromise a healthy economy. Meanwhile, Owen Paterson, the UK’s Secretary of State and political leader on all things environment, has publicly questioned the reality of human-induced climate change.
However, neither the Liberal Democrats nor Labour have come away unscathed either. The Green Standard describes Labour’s failure to lead upon, prioritise, or even propose credible solutions to green the UK economy.
The Liberal Democrats are portrayed as having “no clear vision for the environment” –a portrait which certainly rings true as only yesterday, the Lib Dems backed a motion to support fracking- a fossil fuel industry vociferously opposed by 1000s of demonstrators nationwide, with 67% of citizens preferring to have a wind turbine near their home than a fracking site.
As extreme weather and energy insecurity bear down on our continent, we need someone to lead us to a better place, fast. While British politicians flag, our EU membership may haul us out of the smoggy darkness. The EU’s record on the environment, while not perfect, is often better than Britain’s record.
From addressing carbon capture, to banning bee-harming pesticides, the EU is providing both a platform to debate these issues, as well as leadership in exploring change.
Let’s take fish as an example. In 2005, the Northeast Atlantic was 95% overfished. Recognising the seriousness of the situation, the European Commission tackled the issue head on through determined fisheries management. Today, the same waters are only 39% overfished.
Concurrently, the European policy governing fisheries has undergone significant, progressive reform; a process frequently led, perhaps surprisingly by Richard Benyon, the UK’s Tory Fisheries Minster. A chance on the world stage allowed him to push for positive change, in a way which he’s failed to do at home, as shown by his desultory progress in establishing only 31 of the originally propose 127 marine conservation zones in UK waters.
The possibility to participate, shape and share a common future on issues such as air quality, weather, natural resources and energy security is one that shouldn’t be overlooked by the debate on our membership of the European Union.
The environment is one issue we’re unable to go alone – we need to be in it to win it.
Lord Ashcroft’s mega poll of key marginals, released yesterday, has been interpreted as showing three things:
1) Labour are doing very well against the Tories in the Tory-Labour battlegrounds
2) The Lib Dems are doing less well but still ok against the Tories in the Tory-LD battlegrounds
3) The Tories’ problems are a result of their voters defecting to UKIP
I agree with the first two interpretations, but the third looks to me to be a misreading of the data. Its extensive coverage in papers that would prefer Cameron to be more UKIP-like – the Telegraph, Mail & Express – suggests wishful thinking.
I’m going to focus on the poll of Tory-Labour marginals because that’s got more constituencies (32 vs 8) and a much bigger sample size – and it’s the one the coverage has focused on.
This is a poll of constituencies the Tories hold, so at the last election, Labour were slightly behind in all of them. Yet now the headline voting intent figure has Labour 13pts ahead*:
But UKIP’s vote is 14% and Labour’s lead is only 13pts, so that means UKIP are the reason Labour are leading in the constituencies, right?
Not even two in five of that 14% who would vote UKIP in the next election voted Tory in 2010:
If UKIP were to disappear after the EU elections and the Tories were to be reunited with their lost voters, they would gain just 5.3pts – not nearly enough to overhaul Labour’s lead. And of course if UKIP were to disappear, some of those Labour defectors could return, potentially adding 2pts to Labour’s score. Put those together and the UKIP damage to the Tories is just over 3pts: less than a quarter of Labour’s lead.
This isn’t to say Labour’s lead in these constituencies is secure. Out of the main parties it has kept the highest proportion of its 2010 voters, and of course it’s had a sizeable chunk of people who abandoned the Lib Dems after the coalition was agreed. But it also has the largest number of people who didn’t vote in 2010**:
These people have already said in the poll that they’re going to vote at the next election, but the high proportion of people who didn’t vote in 2010 is a risk if they regularly don’t turn up at elections (though some are probably first-time voters). And of course there are other reasons the Labour vote may fall.
But the idea that UKIP is the reason the Tories are behind in these key marginals is just not true – or at best it’s a quarter of the truth.
* There’s a separate voting intent question that encourages respondents to think about their particular constituency. This might be a better guide of how people will actually vote when push comes to shove, but I’m not using it here because I’d rather stick with something that’s comparable with other polls. Anyway, UKIP’s vote is smaller there and Labour’s lead is larger.
** The tables don’t show exactly what proportion of those “Other/Didn’t vote” were non-voters in 2010 (they need to be weighted by turnout), but the raw numbers suggest they’re overwhelmingly non-voters and that more than half of those who didn’t vote in 2010 but would now, would now vote Labour.
Since launching in the UK in May 2012, Change.org – the world’s largest petition site – has seen its UK user base grow to almost 3 million people, starting, joining and winning campaigns on issues they care about.
What makes some petitions fly and why do some not catch the imagination? Here are my ten top tips for using the site to win your campaign.
1. Tell your story
When Nic Hughes died of cancer and his life insurance company refused his family’s claim, his best friend Kester wanted to fight for justice. Kester didn’t bother explaining the in-and -outs of the insurance claim, he simply told the story of his incredible friend and the family he left behind. It was enough to get 60,000 backers who helped secure a pay-out for the Hughes family. Not everyone loves causes – but we all love a story. Tell yours.
2. Don’t be so formal
“We the undersigned” is the least engaging first sentence ever. The best petitions on Change.org read like a news story not a policy briefing. Be engaging and use simple language – it won’t just be your supporters that understand the issue better, it will probably be more convincing to the decision makers to.
3. It’s not a petition, it’s a community
Everyone that signs your petition is someone saying ‘I agree with you and I want to help’. Get them to help you. You can email the people that sign your petition through Change.org so think about what you can ask them to do. Kester got his supporters to call up the insurance company, Caroline got women to dress up as historical figures and turn up outside the Bank of England. You’ll often be surprised by the enthusiasm of your supporters.
4. Don’t get hung up on numbers
Thanks to the government’s e-petition site, 100,000 signers has become a defacto figure for petition success. The parliamentary debate idea is a myth (lots of petitions lower than 100k have been discussed; while lots at 100k haven’t). It’s not the numbers on your petition that matter, it’s the campaign that goes with it. The vast majority of winning campaigns on Change.org have far less than 100k supporters.
5. It’s not all about Twitter
Forget Stephen Fry’s Twitter feed (as lovely as he is) building movements online is about storytelling, Facebook and email. If you really want to get your campaign trending on Twitter or get a bunch of new signers – send an email. Twitter is where you can speak to media and celebs but Facebook and email are better for new signers and engagement. Use them all.
6. Find the little big thing
When the Bank of England announced that Elizabeth Fry would no longer be on a five pound note Caroline Criado Perez thought it said something profound about how women’s’ achievements are celebrated. She won her now infamous campaign and by doing so inspired a huge media debate about sexism. Big issues are important, but can be tough to make sound urgent. Think about the little thing that makes the big thing come to life.
7. React fast
When Jo, a sexual abuse survivor, heard that a lawyer and judge had referred to an abuse victim as “predatory” she started a petition. It was up and running before the press have even picked up the story. By that afternoon she had thousands of supporters, the next day she was telling her story to the media and soon charities and the Prime Minister spoke out in support. Less than 48 hours later she had won her campaign.
8. Put yourself in the target’s shoes to change their mind
Take some time to think about who is the most important decision maker you are trying to reach and what motivates them – their brand, customers, voters. Then break down your campaign to target each of those elements.
9. Celebrate every win
What motivates supporters is winning. If you get a result, even if it is small, tell them and celebrate it. Releasing the power you have to make change is addictive and gets people coming back for more.
10. Victory comes in lots of forms: be agile
IDS doesn’t live on £53 per week. Lucy hasn’t won her campaign to get topless images off Page 3 – but both campaigns have had impact in different ways. For one week in April the debate on welfare shifted – while for twelve months media sexsim has been highlighted through Lucy’s campaign. Embrace progress, report it back to supporters and keep campaigning.
Imagine you get a phone call at 6am each morning, to tell you if you’ll get any work – or pay – each day. You’re awake, dressed, waiting, then it’s “stand down”. That can happen five days in a row, and you’ll get to the end of the week without a penny coming in to your pocket.
Imagine you’ve got to arrange childcare whenever you have to go to work – and you only get a couple of hours’ notice that you have to go to work. That’s not a situation that far too many British workers have to imagine – that’s their reality.
All of those cases I was told about by audiences to whom I’d been speaking about zero-hours contracts. And they’ve strengthened my conviction that these contracts should be banned.
It’s an issue that I’ve been addressing since I was elected Green Party leader almost a year ago, and I’ve noticed a trend. When I first asked meetings “do you know what zero-hours contracts are?”, I’d get lots of head-shaking, and would need to explain. Yet in the past month or two, that’s rare – in part no doubt because of publicity about the issue, but also it seems because the employment practice is spreading fast.
It’s still most common, and most known, in the sectors in which it began, in retail and care. And defenders of zero-hours contracts, like this Telegraph leader, which claims “many people have to take uncertain, unskilled jobs is because they lack the training to do anything else”. And many of the high-profile cases that have emerged in recent days, McDonald’s and Subway, and Sports Direct, have been in retail.
But – ignoring the question of whether caring for vulnerable elderly, disabled or young people really is something that should be regarded as an “uncertain, unskilled” job (or for the fact that other countries treat retailing as a proper career) – that’s a misunderstanding.
For these contracts are spreading like a disease among a wide range of workers, from academics, to IT professionals, to accountants, to lawyers, to doctors and nurses.
One claim often made about these contracts – indeed it was made yesterday morning by Ruth Porter of the Institute for Economic Affairs when we debated the issue on BBC Radio Ulster– is that they are desperately needed by struggling small businesses. But that’s belied by the facts – it’s 23% of workplaces with more than 100 employees that are using them, and only 6% of the businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
Yes, there are a few workers who these contracts suit perfectly, and they might be disadvantaged by a ban (by everette at testsforge). But the cost of having them available to employers, and used with abandon, far exceeds any benefit.
Flexibility can be maintained without leaving workers trapped, as Larry Elliot in the Guardian said, in a digitised version of the early 19tt century dockers line-up. Seasonal contracts, contracts with guaranteed hours that are flexible about when those hours are worked and allow staff to take other jobs as well, we might look at the German model which demands that a maximum of 25% of a contract can be flexible hours.
The Green Party is calling for zero-hours contracts to be banned, as part of a broader shake up of our labour laws. What we need from our economy are jobs that workers can build their life on – that pay a living wage.
Then workers can rent homes, start families, think about mortgages – or at the very least be certain of being able to pay for food and essential bills at the end of the week.
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