The gestures of jesters – Labour's £15-an-hour pledge is the abdication of government

The gestures of jesters – Labour's £15-an-hour pledge is the abdication of government

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Wednesday 17, February, 2021

THERE ARE TWO ways to fight elections. One is to pose sincerely an alternative vision for the country, to contest the throne of government and to promise a better kingdom from kicking out the old regime. The other is to abandon all pretence of claiming the throne and comforting oneself as court jester, to flatter, to mock and to dance about without anyone taking you seriously.

This is where Scottish Labour is with their £15-an-hour pledge for all social care workers. Throw in porters, auxiliaries, whatever else you like really. It doesn't matter who is included when the scheme is so obviously preposterous. At a time when health and social care is stretched, when people are selling their homes to pay for care, who on Earth thought this was a smart idea? 

Why not go for broke and say £20 an hour? Why not £25? Someone working a 48-hour week, on £15-an-hour, is looking at earning around £35,000 a year. There is an obvious problem here and that is the pay scale. Why spend five years in medical school, accumulate tens of thousands in debt, even for accommodation let alone any fees paid, when you can earn the same without any university education? 

There is no point having a negotiated pay scale such as Agenda for Change or any other when the lowest rung of the ladder is so high it compresses every salary above it. The rate of return for anyone starting out of £35,000 a year to enter higher training is unacceptably low, it may even be negative. We are right back in the early Soviet Union where everyone travelled first class because all the second-class seats were ripped out of the train carriages. 

It leaves the professions not as a means to better oneself through hard work but instead a plaything for the rich and privileged, for those who can afford to spend huge sums and time training for absolutely no material gain at all. The UK is famous for importing mad ideas from the USA. For years unions have campaigned there for a $15 minimum wage only to see jobs destroyed by automation, accelerated by a market that prices human labour out of the equation. 

Social care is understaffed so surely the main objective should be to recruit more people and retain them? Burning up the existing budget – and then some – to maintain the current service would ruin any chance of that. When you are more than doubling the hourly pay of thousands of workers you will have to look far beyond sticking a penny on income tax or "making efficiency savings". 

Time and again in Scotland UK Labour falls into this pit of lunacy where money for some reason does not matter. Blair came to power and stayed there on a platform of economic competence; this is hardly that. It can be expected from the fringes of the left, from the woke compostables that claim to be Greens, but not from a party with any plans on government.

A wish list is not a plan, worse it holds in place the appalling status quo under the SNP by making clear to everyone that Scottish Labour is a waste of time. It begs the question who is writing this rubbish? It’s as if the party were completely rudderless and the trade unions are pulling every string to lobby for their own self-interest in the hope it shifts the Overton Window back to ruinous spending and fiscal incontinence. It won't. If Corbyn couldn't sell this then Lennon or Sarwar have no chance. 

The SNP is many things, most of them bad. What they are not is indulgent in this level of fantasy within their own budgeting. Their claims can be ridiculous, their answers can be deceitful and devious, but they do not spend outwith their budget what they clearly do not have. They will broadcast magical thinking when it comes to a far-off future but day to day they have had no choice but to stick to reality when it comes to public pay scales. It is par the course for an SNP that in economic terms is still very Blairite once you get past the rhetoric. 

Labour on the other hand wants to wear a serious suit and dress as a clown at the same time. It is not a halfway house anyone will buy. You are as serious as your most fantastical policy and when businesses and families are on their knees – suggesting paying more and borrowing more for those who have enjoyed the greatest job security among the low paid – smells to me like circling the wagons.

It is not a platform for government nor is it even the start of a new political journey. This party is ideologically dead, burnt out and too saddled by its debt to the public sector trade unions to mount a serious assault on those in government that have stolen their clothes. After 14 years out of office we will soon be looking at 20 years before they could even hope to be ready. Like a zombie bank rolling over non-performing loans, when will we finally conclude in public what we all know in private.

Labour, like its public sector policies, is bust. 

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Dr Jonathan Stanley has worked in a variety of frontline NHS positions in the UK since qualifying as a surgeon twelve years ago. 

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