After much political speculating, gesticulating and anticipating, the news has filtered through to the nation this evening that George Osborne supports an above inflation increase in the National Minimum Wage. Corresponding with the Conservatives’ rhetoric of ‘making work pay’, this announcement will see the possibility of a Minimum Wage rise to £7 an hour according to the Chancellor, helping families with the cost of living difficulties they are presently facing. This is not merely a crude policy announcement however; oh no, the Tories would not be so flippant. Indeed, it is designed to act as a smokescreen, invading the public consciousness and masking any potential political foothold gained by Ed Miliband when he proposes reforms to the banking sector tomorrow.
You can see the Tory logic behind this political posturing however. Not only does this policy all but negate Labour’s promise to increase the National Minimum Wage, but it also promotes a seemingly economically even-handed approach: “The bankers get their bonuses; you get more money in your back pocket, everyone is happy. Especially us, if we win the election.” It’s an age-old Conservative philosophy; if the poor are getting richer, they won’t care that the rich are becoming even more so. The question exists though, what can Miliband do to shatter such an ideology?
Every week we see the leader of the opposition flat-footed at PMQs. If the play doesn’t unfold as his script dictates then he exhibits the intellectually agility of a post-fight Rocky Balboa. This is not what is required of him tomorrow. Miliband must approach his speech on banking reform with the Minimum Wage debate in mind, and meet it confrontationally; not lumber in the mire of predesigned, sanitised oratory. He must lay the blame for depressed wages on a parasitic banking sector that created the global financial crisis; a banking sector that still acts largely unimpeded. He must also emphasise that without necessary reforms, a similar situation will invariably reoccur in the future; Osborne may be giving people a pay rise now, but when the next crisis hits in five years’ time, ordinary workers’ wages will once again be the first to suffer.
There is no doubt that this would be brave from Miliband, after all, the New Labour government he was a member of did nothing to prevent the last financial crash. But this is surely the perfect opportunity to emerge from beneath the spectres of Blair and Brown. There has been no line drawn in the sand between New Labour and One Nation Labour; a damning critique of banker behaviour on workers’ wages would therefore be ideal.
All too often nowadays politics seems to be a game of chess, calculated and constructed in central offices and cabinet rooms, well away from the fluidity and emotion of real life. Tomorrow, we could see the shackles of political formality cast off and a speech that evokes reactionary passion, responding in context to ever-changing developments. Or we could see the same, straight-bat, single script approach. If Ed Miliband opts for the former rather than the latter, his message may just ring through. If not, Osborne will have won this particular battle, and will be celebrating tomorrow evening with his chums at RBS.
By Sam Bright