The ob­ses­sion with ‘good’ jobs will only deny work­ers flex­i­bil­ity and free­dom

The Sunday Telegraph - - Letters to the editor - TOM WELSH H READ MORE READ MORE

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 tele­ 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?

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