Sunday 15 February 2009

Market fundamentalism lives!

"We are talking about the marketplace and people should be free to compete in the marketplace without restriction".

So says Mr Christopher Chope MP, promoting his Bill to allow employers to opt out of paying the minimum wage where they can find people willing to work for less, and dismissing Andrew MacKinley's observation that this would be "unfair competition".

Question one: What, if any, employment legislation would be saved from abolition were Chope's 'no restrictions on market exchange' principle carried through? Sex and race discrimination legislation would go, but why shouldn't Chope get back up to the start of the slippery slope and argue for the repeal of the Factory Acts of the 19th century? (Precisely the same progressive and 'pro-poor' arguments were made; have just found that Labour MP Alan Whitehead has made this point).

Question two: Why did Chope not honestly make it a Minimum Wage (Abolition) Bill instead of weasal words about a voluntary opt-out where employers can find people willing to work for less. What's the difference? "Before anybody accuses me of wanting to impose poverty wages, let me emphasise that I am talking about arrangements for freely consenting adults", said Chope, demonstrating the touching naivety of the neo-liberal about the existence of power relationships in the real world.

Question three: is Chope a lone dinosaur, or is this an argument that appeals to a significant slice of Tory opinion?

Well, ConservativeHome reports that it was "a very persuasive speech". (Read it all and see how persuaded you are).

More intriguing is that more than one tenth of Tory backbench MPs were willing to formally sponsor a Bill which challenges one of the Tory leadership's most prominent 'we were wrong' after the event concessions to New Labour's record.

That Mr. Christopher Chope, Mr. Peter Bone, Philip Davies, Mr. Nigel Evans, Mr. Greg Knight, Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Brian Binley, Mr. William Cash, Mr. Robert Syms and Mr. David Wilshire present the Bill.

(There would appear to be 90-something Tory MPs on the frontbench, according to the party website lists (somewhere around 99), or almost exactly half the parliamentary party. Can anybody confirm an exact number?)

This is despite the Chope bill not being just substantively wrong-headed - he provides no evidence for the canard that the minimum wage is costing jobs, and it might be an area where research could precede legislation - but daft politics too. There might well be others on the Tory benches with some sympathy with the argument, but more sense of political strategy.

But perhaps Chope is a Progressive Conservative too. He took care to cast the issue as a matter of social justice and fairness for the low paid:

It is ironic that the only people without the freedom to take a pay cut are those on or just above the minimum wage. How can that be fair?


Chirimolla said...

Thanks for your link to research on the issue. It'll give me some good ammo next time it comes to arguing about the minimum wage's impact. :)

Chris Gilmour said...

I'm currently on Job Seekers Allowance, my worth around £1.50 per hour. I would willingly work for less than the minimum wage.