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Socialist pundit ‘cannot afford’ living wage

By Andy Mayer
January 18th, 2011 at 2:10 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Labour, The Human Condition

Whilst we rarely comment on the minutiae of blog wars, the latest Guido Fawkes (libertarian) versus Laurie Penny (socialist) bust up over whether she’s breached her own principles by advertising an intern job marginally under the minimum wage, and well below the ‘living wage‘ she supports imposing on businesses, has yielded the following unintentional insight 

PennyRed Laurie Penny @OllyDeed because I don’t make much more than minimum wage myself. If I could pay the living wage without bankrupting myself, I would.”

Well yes… that’s the point isn’t it… the problem with the Living Wage… is that if applied coercively to internships and other jobs on the margins of the employment sector… it that those opportunities cease to exist. This helps neither employer or wanabe employee.

Where the minimum wage is set too high the impact similarly is to reduce the number of jobs available below minimum wage. This is quite a problem in France where the long term consequences, along with other labour market  interventions, have been high rates of youth unemployment.

Better surely to let supply and demand determine wages and tackle genuine exploitation by exposing bad employers to publicity. Something Miss Penny appears not to be enjoying today.


Oldham – implications for Labour

By Andy Mayer
January 14th, 2011 at 3:28 pm | 13 Comments | Posted in Labour

The Labour majority of just over 3,500 and 42% in a seat that could only be considered marginal when they were in Government is not a surprising result, nor a particularly good one. This was no reverse Brent East for Labour, or even a reverse Oldham West, the 1968 Conservative gain from Labour on a swing of 27.6%.

Labour won, but cannot see this as a much more than a negative vote against the Government, rather than endorsement for their alternative, or Leader Ed Miliband.

The new MP Debbie Abrahams, if indicative of the centre of gravity in the party should also worry New Labour. Her professional credentials, as a former Chair of the Rochdale Primary Care Trust are fairly solid. That she resigned in 2006 though “expressing her anger at the use of private health companies in the NHS”, and other public statements, suggest a commitment to the easy politics of opposition and the old left, and that was when Labour were the Government.

To oppose the Coalition, this is fine. Labour’s current strategy of attacking all cuts and avoiding any temptation to spell out what they might do differently plays to the misery gallery. To win in 2015 though, assuming the Coalition make few catastrophic errors and the economy has recovered, they will need to look like a Government again.

I’m not sure harking back to a better yesterday that never was is going to deliver that.

Dangerous Liaisons

By Andy Mayer
December 17th, 2010 at 11:34 am | 4 Comments | Posted in Labour, Liberal Democrats, Satire

Roy Hattersley, writing in today’s Guardian, captures well the confusion in Labour about how to tempt Liberal Democrats into their camp. Entitled:

“Radical Lib Dems must revolt – or lose everything”

He opines that the corporate myth of a progressive alliance on the left is dying (if only); and in order to keep it alive, the traitors to this cause or ‘so-called progressives’ within the Liberal Democrats, should prove they are not traitors, by treacherously undermining their own Leader (who apparently is a “conservative”) at every turn.

Comrades! Prove your loyalty through disloyalty!

Then, and only then, if they are lucky, might the Labour party forgive them and consider some kind of partnership.

It is somewhat reminiscent of the plot of the Dangerous Liaisons, where the Marquise de Merteuil invites her ex-lover and rival Valmont to corrupt her enemies in order to get another shot with her.

He does so, against his better judgement and finer feelings, and they all end the novel dead, disgraced or disfigured.

A modern American remake of the French book, Cruel Intentions, charmingly summed up the reward on offer as “you can put it anywhere… “. Their Valmont gets run over.

Hattersley's vision?

Hattersley’s vision?


Roy Hattersley and the Labour party sadly lack the more obvious charms of former Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar, from any angle. And the left of the Liberal Democrats are not hormonal teenage boys with troubling fantasies; well mostly not.

But the implication and outcome would be the same. Destroy what you have for the promise of a former tease who proved entirely fickle and unfulfilling for the previous 13 years they could have made your dreams come true.

Which is the root of Hattersley’s delusion. If there ever were a prospect of a genuine progressive alliance, Labour could have easily delivered it in office. Particularly in 2005 when their 35% vote share made any pretence to a mandate or future majority risible.

Instead as with the Project, the Cook-Maclennan commission, Britain in Europe, and a host of other common platform collaborations, Labour persistently used pluralism as a mechanism for marginalising opposition not delivering common goals…

But this time…. this time… it will all be different…

‘you can put it anywhere…’


President Tim rebukes the Miliband Tendency

By Andy Mayer
December 13th, 2010 at 11:00 pm | 9 Comments | Posted in Labour, Liberal Democrats, Policy

When writing about the rise of Tim Farron last month, we made the following prediction:

“He will become one of Ed Miliband’s sternest critics whilst agreeing with almost everything he says.”

So we are pleased to see Tim’s reaction to Miliband’s latest attempt to split the party as follows:

‘Labour spent years “sucking up to Rupert Murdoch and George Bush – why would any progressive even give them a second glance?”‘

Meanwhile as if to answer Tim’s question, Richard Grayson, a self-appointed victim of the party’s desire to practice pluralism, is not so much coquettishly glancing, as giving the Labour party a throaty snog under the Mistletoe by joining Liam Byrne in a co-operative policy review.

This is a mistake for both parties.

For Labour it makes it less not more likely that they will get useful input from serious Liberal Democrats. Grayson is something of a monomaniac on the social justice agenda, finds compromise hard, and his solutions gravitate towards the impractical. Others on the social liberal left who might like to work with Labour from time to time through the usual route of think tanks will not necessarily warm to Grayson as their champion or his official channel as as a filter.

Meanwhile much of the ‘Orange Book’ agenda, reaching socially liberal outcomes through market mechanisms, is straight out of the New Labour playbook. The Miliband Tendency might well remember New Labour as the people who won elections, and still have sizable support in the Party. Elevating Grayson may well encourage more Labour moderates like Alan Milburn and Frank Field to work with the Coalition.

For Grayson it will marginalise him in both organisations. Few warm to overt treachery, and there is a world of difference between constructive criticism on serious points of policy disagreement, and openly seeking to undermine your Leader. For those who might agree with Grayson often on policy, like President Tim, it puts them in the disagreeable position of disowning him or looking disloyal.

Within Labour tribal loyalty has an even higher value, defectors and collaborators may be welcomed in public, but are often derided in private. The ‘for-us’ or ‘against-us’ mentality finds it hard to work with others, other than in the Machiavellian sense of using them as means to ends. Labour’s interest in Grayson is purely in the electoral calculus of how much damage he can do the Liberal Democrats, not his ideas.

Grayson in June described the Liberal Democrats as “unideological, under-factionalised and leadership-loyal”. Forming an ideological faction of one to disprove the latter is not his finest moment.

Student enrolment – a challenge to Will Straw

By Andy Mayer
November 3rd, 2010 at 12:34 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Labour, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

“Evidence-based” top Labour blog Left Foot Forward makes an extraordinary and alarming claim this morning that hikes in tuition fees will “deter four in five students” from enrolling at university. More specifically that hikes to £10k a year will deter 79%, £7k 70%, and £5k 53%.

This is based on one survey by the National Union of Students and HSBC, released in September that asked current students:

“If tuition fees were increased to XXXX, how likely would this be to have deterred you from going to university?”

Yielding the following results:


The validity of such an approach to testing price sensitivity, and utility of the results are highly dubious for a number of reasons.

  • It’s the wrong audience. Fee increases will impact future not current students. The respondents will never have to make the choice.
  • The question does not make it clear fees are paid in arrears or the various caps and protections for low income earners. Paying £10k today is a very different prospect to paying it over 30 years, or not at all.
  • The word “Deter” is ambiguous, meaning anything from ‘I would not have gone to university’ to ‘I’d have thought harder before going*’.
  • Which degree has a £10k price tag matters, as does whether you’re going to choose that degree yourself. The price-sensitivity of a potential medic to medicine is clearly very different to the price sensitivity of a future historian to engineering. In this survey students who’d never consider a high fee degree are commenting on their tolerance for high fee degrees.
  • Since such political questions from a political lobby could influence whether or how high fees will rise, answers can be biased towards influencing the outcome. It’s rather like asking whether people would like to pay more for their current TV licence for no benefit.
  • Price testing by survey is best done by forcing simulated choices and seeing how people choose. In this case the real choice would be to ask the question of current sixth formers what degrees they are considering and where; then offering them the choice between doing that degree at that institution and accumulating the related debt, not going to university, or choosing a different cheaper degree elsewhere. This would be asked after educating the survey-taker about how fees are repaid. That might give a more realistic assessment of potential student price tolerance.

Personally I would have put the NUS’s claim in quotes.**

But, if Will Straw believes it is at all probable that student enrolment will fall by over half with any fees above £5,000 or the even more extreme drops on higher fees then Liberal Vision is prepared to stake that claim.

If the changes go through we will see a number of courses raise fees. It should then be possible in most cases to measure enrolment before and after for all courses at £5k+, £7k+, and £10k+.

We are fully confident the average enrolments across those courses will not drop by half (the lowest estimate). We’re putting up £100 at evens on each of those levels.

Will you take that bet Mr. Straw?

*One interesting factoid in the NUS survey is that only 30% of current students support their education by working.  There’s quite a lot of room then for many to improve their finances, employability, and ability to pay back fees later, regardless of fee levels.

**LFF have now updated their headline to reflect this, as Will notes in his response.