Monday, May 03, 2010

A Tory government will mean the end of the minimum wage

If the Conservatives were still in power and the NMW had never been introduced, a typical low-paid worker would now earn £1-60 instead of £5-80 an hour.

Miles of newspaper colums and multiple television hours have been so far dedicated to anything from Sarah Brown's toes to Nick Clegg's great-great-aunt. There have been debates about tax, cuts, immigration and education, the NHS and Trident.

One crucial subject, however, has been notable by its absence. The Conservatives know that they would shoot themselves in the foot if they spoke out on it (Chris Grayling may have taught them a lesson) and Labour are too much in disarray to clock it. We're talking about the minimum wage.

In an interview with the Observer in 2005, David Cameron implied that his and his party's long-term extreme opposition to the minimum wage had been wrong. "It turned out much better than many people expected, including the CBI", he said.

But those few words are hardly reassuring against a sea of Conservative hostility that started in the 1990s and continues to this day.

Introduced in April 1999 and hailed as one of New Labour's best policies, the minimum wage was designed to rescue workers from slave-like wages - as little as 35p an hour. I remember vividly hopping from agency to agency in 1997 being offered a selection of jobs that would pay up to £2 an hour, meaning guaranteed poverty and hardly an incentive to punctuality, motivation and professionalism.

Ideologically, the Conservatives see nothing wrong with rock-bottom wages. They would moan about "a lifetime on benefit" but they would also fight tooth and nail to preserve the scandal of companies profiteering on borderline slave labour.

Glaze-eyed, they would recite from their ideological hymnsheet that the-market-regulates-itself (I suppose like bankers regulate their own bonuses), that it's-a-consensual-agreement (of course- a desperate casual worker has the same negotiating power than a multinational company), and that you can always find a job that pays better if £1 an hour doesn't suit you (but then they'll moan that migrants "have stolen all our jobs").

In 1999, like true Prophets of Doom, the Conservatives repeated that a NMW would stop foreign investors from setting shop in Britain, meaning higher unemployment and the collapse of businesses. One of their MPs said: "The minimum wage would condemn hundreds of thousands to the dole queue".

Of course that never happened. More jobs were created after the minimum wage was brought in. Over one million people, the majority of which women, benefitted instantly from a pay rise and were able to see a little improvement in their living standards. Still shitty wages, but clearly better than before.

Yet the Tories' Parliamentary record is there for all to see. They were hysterical when the minimum wage was implemented. They frothed at the mouth each time it was raised to catch up with the inflation.

The inflation-rate calculators say that, if the Conservatives were still in power and the NMW had never been introduced, a typical low-paid worker would now earn £1-60 instead of £5-80 an hour.

But there's more. The Conservatives may have done it on the quiet because it's electorally suicidal, but they campaigned to water it down as recent as 2009. Christopher Chope MP introduced a Parliamentary Bill calling for a "minimum wage opt out". He remarked that it should be "a basic human right" for people to be paid less than the minimum wage.

Senior Tory sources disclosed last year that a Tory government would allow the minimum wage to melt away. "We need to find ways of helping British business to remain competitive. The minimum wage won't be scrapped but it will be allowed to wither on the vine".

In October 2009, this was confirmed by an article in the Telegraph which called on David Cameron "to do more than slow the growth of the minimum wage – he needs to commit to putting it into reverse", repeating the old mantra that "[i]n the depths of a recession, it acts as a real barrier in getting people back to work".

Ominously, at the final Leaders' Debate on Thursday, David Cameron repeatedly stated that a Conservative government would cut down on "business regulation".

You've seen how ferociously the Conservatives are opposing a 1% National Insurance rise on employers.

Can you really picture the same people raising the minimum wage each time the inflation goes up? If, like me, you've experienced the depression of being paid as little as £2 an hour, remember that on May 6.


noodle said...

i'm a long way away from being a tory, but this seems to be misleading scaremongering right up there with the rubbish peddled about immigration and such like by those on the right.

cameron has publicly said that the old tory stance on the minimum wage was wrong. you accept that. and your evidence for the title 'a tory government will mean the end of the minimum wage' is what, exactly? unattributed 'senior tory' comments from the daily mirror, and an opinion piece from the telegraph?

the opt out idea seems like a proposal from one mp, not party policy... and it contradicts with the 'senior tory' who claims the minimum wage will just be left to wither away.

if it is allowed to wither, then even that is a long stretch from 'the end of the minimum wage'. if it were not increased at all then the value would depreciate a few percent each year... entirely undesirable, but hardly the return to people being paid £2 an hour that your 'headline' suggests.

claude said...

Misleading scaremongering?

I note that you put on the same level.

a)a succession of parliamentary votes 1998-2009 against the minimum wage coming 100% from the Tory benches with
b)right-wing headlines such as "Labour's conspiracy to give all jobs to non-whites" or "Nick Clegg's Nazi slur", "the LibDems will leave us vulnerable to terrorism".

"cameron has publicly said that the old tory stance on the minimum wage was wrong.".

He most certainly did. But that is one (1) quick statement in 2005 versus a collection of his party (and his own) record voting against the NMW.

The Tory record on the NMW is unequivocal. There is no misunderstanding. They have always vigorously campaigned against the minimum wage and each successive raise.

"the opt out idea seems like a proposal from one mp, not party policy"

Don't be so naive. It wasn't "one" MP. It was signed by several other MPs. Each of them Tory. Cameron is a clever bloke and he let it drop purely for electoral purposes. Wait until they have a parliamentary majority and we'll see if he does the same.

"if it is allowed to wither, then even that is a long stretch from 'the end of the minimum wage'."

A minimum wage that is not regularly updated defeats the object of a minimum wage.
Imagine if the Tories had won in 2001. Today we'd still have a minimum wage of £3-60 an hour. Which, work in a low pay shit job, and tell me if it's worth bothering at all.

I tell you one more thing. Look at what George W Bush did from 2001 on. The minimum wage in the US was raised once only (and way lower than inflation) during 8 years of Republican tenure in the White House.

The consequence was that its real value in 2007 was over $2-70 an hour less than it was in 1978!

That's how you allow a minimum wage to die and that's how there is reason to fear the Tories will probably do the same.

Cameron has been cagey about it. The other two parties and journalist need to ask him if he promises to update it regularly if he's voted in.

noodle said...

claude.. your final two paragraphs sum up my beef with this post.

if there is reason to fear something, then write about the reasons to fear it. if someone needs to be questioned about something then write about the need to question.

don't write 'headlines' and posts that present something as fact when it's just speculation.

if i read this piece in a newspaper then i wouldn't consider it any better than the trash headlines you refer to from the mail and suchlike.

claude said...

I hope you're right that it's just speculation.

I maintain their 1998-2009 record speaks for itself.

"if there is reason to fear something, then write about the reasons to fear it. if someone needs to be questioned about something then write about the need to question".

With respect, I wouldn't go on your blog telling you what and/or how to write. By all means comment and criticise and present all the counterarguments that you want, but don't tell me what to write.

noodle said...

don't get me wrong.. it's valid speculation. i shouldn't have given the impression that (i believe that) it's not. government has a fundamental duty to ensure that a fair value is placed on human labour, and we should be concerned if there are signs that a potential government will take a retrograde step with regards to that.

but, with respect back atcha, i have to assume that you'd think it was fair of someone to critique the daily mail (for example) for a sensaltionalist headline (like,, y'know, accusing nick clegg of a 'nazi slur') which wasn't backed up by the story beneath? if not then, forgive me, i think that you should.

claude said...

The comparison you make doesn't stand.

It would if Nick Clegg had been a Nazi or a fascist in the past, or if he'd a member of Combat 18 or the NF, or -simply- if his article had taken the piss out of Britain.

A quick look at what he wrote in 2002 would obviously tell you that his article had nowt to do with the Nazi. Like, nowt. zero. zilch. Hence the national pisstake of the Daily Mail.

On the other side, the Tories boast a 100% record AGAINST the minimum wage and its successive rises. It's there. It's consistent. it's very recent too.

The only tiny weeny thing against it is a rickety phrase said by Cameron to the Observer in 2005.

I'd be totally satisfied with it and be willing to believe him were it not that, since then, several Tory MPs have openly campaigned and/or tabled motions in the Commons to water down or effectively dismantle the NMW. Cameron has never disavowed them.

If you seriously think that the two things can be compared, then I think you may need to cut down on the old wacccy baccy mate.

Stan Moss said...


you really don't think the Tories aren't gonna jeopardise the NMW? Have you been hiding somewhere in recent years? You must have blinked when several Top Tories offered their support to Chope's Bill last year? Conservative Home, the Party's official blog seemed to endorse it full on.

On top of that, do you honestly believe such a massive change of heart? You don't even contemplate the off chance that Cameron may have been driven to it by electoral opportunism?

I bet you also believe the back of Walkers crisps saying that they're integral part of a balanced diet or that Labour werent gonna introduce top up fees or that they werent gonna invade Iraq without a 2nd resolution.

I envy you noodle. I wish I was like you. I want to believe all politicians too but I can't.

noodle said...

claude: i get what you're saying. i just don't see how the headline fits the story. sadly, if the polls are right, we might find out!

stan: you've kinda missed my point. again, we may find out if the tories really do want to scrap or devalue the minimum wage. i am not saying that they won't... i don't know... and nothing in the blog post, except the headline, tells me that they will. it's just genuine concern that they might.

let us speak of this no more... and just hope to god that the concerns are unfounded.

Anonymous said...

It really isn't scaremongering, given their opposition to anything that might encroach on the freedom for business to do what it pleases in the pursuit of profit (they are opposed to the Human Rights legislation as well remember?) Also, being left to wither in the curent economic climate and shedding 6 billion immediately is going to hurt, then 5 or 6 quid an hour is going to equate to £1.60 in real terms pretty swiftly.