X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Coffee House

Labour’s minimum wage attack flops

16 January 2014

11:33 AM

16 January 2014

11:33 AM

Labour’s minimum wage debate in the Commons last night was designed mainly to humiliate the Conservatives about their past opposition to it and to remind voters that only the Labour party cares about those on low wages. But it failed on two counts. The first was that Rachel Reeves fell into the easy trap of accusing someone of missing a vote without double-checking whether this had been for a good reason (all the more surprising given the party’s recent rage over a Sun article describing Lucy Powell as ‘lazy’ when she had in fact been away on maternity leave). She laid into Vince Cable for failing to vote on Labour’s introduction of the minimum wage, saying:

‘I have quoted the former leader of the Liberal Democrats but, back then, where was the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable)? He was nowhere to be seen in the debates. He was nowhere to be seen on the voting record. On Second Reading and Third Reading, he failed to vote. Apparently, he abstained because he had reservations about a minimum wage. Perhaps he will stand up today to profess his concern for the plight of the low-paid. I am happy to take an intervention from the right hon. Gentleman if he wants to make one.’

When Cable responded to the motion, he explained where he was, and it made uncomfortable listening for the Labour front bench:

‘The hon. Member for Leeds West made a great deal of the fact that, as she put it, the Conservatives opposed the national minimum wage and many Liberal Democrats opposed it. She speaks with all the self-confidence of somebody who was not here at the time.’

Chris Bryant: ‘You were and you didn’t vote.’

Vince Cable: ‘I did not particularly wish to raise this, but I am being asked personally to explain why I did not vote. It had a lot to do with the fact that my late wife was terminally ill at the time and I was in the Royal Marsden hospital. That is why my voting record at the time was poor on that and other issues.’

[Alt-Text]


Later Labour’s Ian Murray accepted that perhaps the party had been unkind to the Business Secretary, and Rachel Reeves has just tweeted that she has written to Cable to apologise. Chris Bryant has also apologised in the past few minutes. It’s not the first time someone has made the mistake of assuming that non-attendance at a vote has a sinister rather than sad explanation, but it rather blunted Labour’s attack on the Lib Dems at least. Unusually, it also meant Vince Cable was left defending the Conservatives, and he did so in an unusually gracious way:

‘As for the Conservatives, although I do not always speak in their defence, I think that they should get credit for accepting that there is a good system that works and for deciding to support it. That is creditable. Although I and my party have supported the national minimum wage, there is a perfectly respectable intellectual and moral argument for not having a minimum wage. Countries that do not have a minimum wage include Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Austria. Those countries are all in the social democratic tradition, but have felt that it is too problematic. Germany, which has had either social democratic or national unity Governments for most of the post-war period, has adopted a national minimum wage only in the last few weeks. In those countries, where there are civilised values and a sense of solidarity, the costs and benefits of the minimum wage have been debated properly. Why should we criticise people in this country who wanted to have such a debate, but who have now come to a consensus that it is a good system and that we should make it work?’

Reeves’ attack on the Tories had already sounded a little odd, because she had chosen to list the many senior Conservatives, including David Cameron, who opposed and made dire predictions about the minimum wage. This would have made more sense a few weeks ago before the Conservatives started making loud noises about possibly supporting a raise in the minimum wage, and before many Tories on the Right of the party started saying publicly that they had been wrong to oppose Labour’s introduction. The debate itself saw the most loyal Tory MPs such as Charlie Elphicke, who will never step out of line, saying they supported an increase, which gives us as much a clue as anything as to where the Conservatives now stand.

One of the most powerful moments in a Gordon Brown speech was in his 2009 conference address when he listed Labour’s achievements. As part of the list, the Labour PM growled ‘the minimum wage’, and as he did, the conference hall went wild. The Conservatives have now realised the purchase that this policy had on voters’ perceptions of parties, just as they celebrate the purchase that the right-to-buy had when Margaret Thatcher introduced it. Contrition is a rare thing in politics, and yah-booing down the first signs of a party accepting that it made a mistake is hardly the statesmanlike behaviour that Ed Miliband is apparently such a fan of.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close