Conference season is a time for parties to stage their plans for the future of Britain and to promote high party morale. This can generate unity and clarity, whilst presenting a competent party that can deliver on its promises. This is important anyway, but even more so now as we enter the final conference season before the general election next May. This will be the last push for all leaders to rally the troops with a sense of party pride.
The big shots meet later on in the year, with the Tories hosting in Birmingham, the Lib Dems convening in Glasgow, Labour conferencing in Manchester, and UKIP rallying in Doncaster. However, just because they aren’t in session until the end of September, doesn’t mean there isn’t anything going on. Indeed, the Green Party Conference in Birmingham has caused quite a stir with one of its new policy ideas. Here, I will assess their call for a £10 minimum wage by 2020, and what it could mean for our recovering British business community.
A few months ago, after the Chancellor unveiled possible plans to increase the Minimum Wage to help with the cost of living, I wrote an article on the issue;Raising the Minimum Wage – A Good Idea? In that article, I proposed that a raise would have clear advantages for employees through increasing income; therefore any proposed increase would naturally be welcomed. And, of course, an increase would be positively received with voters, so it would make some short-term sense. However, I also looked at the drawbacks a raise would have to the business sector. At the end of the day, it would be businesses that would have to pay for an increase in the Minimum Wage and this could become an unpleasant and unnecessary burden for the recovering business community to carry.
The economy is now growing faster than many of our European counterparts. This is good news, but it doesn’t mean that we are safe from any future downturns. Our economy is tactile and it needs to work confidently in order to thrive. Business is the key to pushing this confidence, which is why the government and the opposition both promise tax relief and incentives to increase productivity, revenue, and competitiveness. These promises seem to be working, as unemployment is at 6.4% (August 2014), the lowest level since the economic crash. However, many businesses are small and as such cannot afford to employ more staff without risking growth.
This may not sound like the end of the world, but if wages increase then it is likely that jobs will be lost, hence creating greater unemployment, the costs of which will be paid for by the consumer – likely to ruin economic confidence both here and abroad. Before you know it; high unemployment, a high benefit bill, no economic prosperity in many areas, and no recovery – in short, the economic equivalent of a mini apocalypse. This is why the Greens’ suggestion is, in brutal terms, wrong.
£10 an hour by 2020 sounds wonderful, but how is it costed? What will pay for it? How will it affect our recovery? All of these questions seem unanswered in the Green Party’s plan. With potential problems seemingly unanticipated, I don’t know how they can call themselves ‘the real party of change’. Conference season is the time for parties to throw ideas around, but I strongly suggest the Greens throw this plan out of the window and into the nearest recycling bin.
The sad reality is that Britain cannot afford such a high increase. An incremental, gradual increase in the Minimum Wage is being suggested and this sounds more sensible, since it will help with the cost of living in a realistic way. It will also show progress, in moving gradually towards a Living Wage in manageable chunks. In the long term, with baby steps, this is something our country will be able to afford as we go into surplus after 2018. This is all of course subject to current predictions and is by no means certain.
Of course, not all of the Green Party’s policy ideas are complete fantasy. There is a plan to introduce a wealth tax; which is something we do need to promote the ideal that we are all ‘paying our fair share’. However, again, the finer details do need to be looked at as we do not want to lose momentum in the economy when we need it most.
So, what is the final verdict for the Green Party’s economic plan? Well, for a party with 6% in the polls and a strong following in some areas like Brighton, Cambridge and Norwich, the Greens need to consider their Minimum Wage policy a bit more wisely. Realism is the key here, and it seems that the Greens need to take an ample dose of this, otherwise they might not improve on their solitary Member of Parliament come May. They are entering the game of big players, and need to up their game to stay in the top flight.
By Sam Kenward