This lunchtime, Treasury minister Sajid Javid said there is a ‘strong case to look at’ raising the minimum wage, joining Matt Hancock as a Conservative minister prepared to say in public that there is a case for doing so.
Amusingly, the Lib Dems are annoyed that the Tories have stolen their policy (in part 3 of the party’s New Year resolution to find a new thing about their coalition partners to complain about every day).
But if the Lib Dems getting upset that the Tories are stealing a march on their fairness agenda is really the biggest problem with this wage increase, then the Tories should be quite chuffed. It always astonishes me that the Conservatives don’t get more annoyed that their Coalition partners like to preen about occupying the moral high ground: it can’t just be that all Tories are modest as like all politicians most of them are very good at boasting about other things. Perhaps a bit of fighting over who is the fairest of them all wouldn’t be a bad thing.
It’s also worth noting that though there are a fair few Tories who think that raising the minimum wage is anything but fair because of the impact they fear it would have businesses’ ability to hire more staff, they’re staying pretty quiet at the moment. There was some consternation among viewers of Newsnight yesterday when Mark Reckless, the right-wing Tory MP who looked as though he had been invited on to have a grump about the damaging effects of a rise, told the programme that he had been wrong to oppose it previously and that it would be a good thing:
‘I would 10 years ago have said no to [an increase in the minimum wage] for the same reason I opposed it, which is because I was concerned it was going to cost jobs. I think the evidence has not borne that out as much as was fit and I think two very important things have changed, and that is one it would actually save the taxpayers’ money because of the extent to which the taxpayer is topping up low wages through tax credits.’
So while there is still an economic debate in some quarters of the party about whether or not a rise might impact on employment, the political debate has clearly changed. It is not dissimilar to the realisation in the Labour party that its campaigning against the right-to-buy was a political loss, with Thatcher winning the ‘champion of aspiration’ tag.