The obsession with ‘good’ jobs will only deny workers flexibility and freedom
The jobs boom is a phenomenal Tory achievement, but also one of the party’s greatest weaknesses, responsible for a terrifying complacency about the state of the economy. With nearly everyone now in work, so the argument goes, government is free to obsess over whether that work is “good”. Interventions that would once have been considered heresy thus become legitimate. Labour Party policies that, just three years ago, were ridiculed by Tories as socialist and anti-business are now endorsed as necessary to building a “fairer economy that works for all”.
The economic risks of this approach are obvious. The political risks are no less serious.
Consider the case of the so-called gig economy, where people use apps such as Uber and Deliveroo to sell their labour. The Government commissioned a review into such “modern working practices” from the Blairite arch-triangulator Matthew Taylor, with the idea that “good work and plentiful work can and should go together”.
Many of his suggestions were harmless. Many were not, and the review failed to adequately account for the cost to consumers, business and gig workers themselves of, for example, extending more rights to the latter. Will it result in fewer jobs? It wasn’t really addressed. Nevertheless, the Government now says it will act on the majority of Taylor’s proposals and, if put into practice, the net impact will
The Tories once believed that it was better to give businesses and people the freedom to make their own choices, while punishing excesses and exploitation where they were found
at telegraph.co.uk/ opinion probably be less flexibility, less freedom and less choice all round.
Surely those pushing for greater “rights” are over the moon? Not a bit of it. The Government is not really acting. For the most part, it has merely opened a range of yet more consultations with the same tired merry go-round of business groups, lawyers and unions. In any case, the final result won’t go nearly far enough for the most committed enemies of the free economy, who want flexible working practices to be banned.
What have the Tories achieved? Not only have they raised and dashed Leftist expectations, they’ve potentially alienated a host of people for whom new technologically enabled business models are not problems to be managed, but opportunities to top up their income or work flexibly. They are also of massive benefit to consumers. A chance to open up clear blue water with Uber-banning Labour has been lost.
The original sin was to imagine that “good work” is solely a technical issue, stripped of ideology, to be addressed via waffle-ridden reports and technocratic consultations. But this concedes to Labour the argument that most problems in Britain are only a pinch of statism away from being solved.
As the Taylor report acknowledges, it is hard to know what people really consider to be “good” work, so diverse and ever-changing are individual preferences. And if “good” work is hard to define, it is dangerous to use businesses to enforce some bureaucrat’s vision of it. The Tories once believed that, in such circumstances, it was better to give businesses and people the freedom to work out their own arrangements and make their own choices, while punishing excesses and exploitation where they were found. Do they believe that any longer?