“If we cannot be fortunate in our friends, may we be fortunate in our enemies.” Traditional Tories must be mulling such thoughts as their Labor party opponents bicker among themselves on the issue of raising the national minimum wage. Will dumb luck save Britain’s Conservative government from electoral comeuppance?
For apart from fulfilling its Brexit promise of independence from the European Union, the record of Britain’s Conservative in office reads little differently than if a Labor ministry held the reins of power. The <i>degree</i> of state intervention might differ, but there is little disagreement about the State’s role in either social or economic life.
Sir Keir Starmer stood down a conference motion passed by Labor members at their autumn conference to increase the minimum wage to £15 from its “maximum” of £8.36, standing instead on a rise to £10. Earlier in the week, shadow employment secretary Andy McDonald resigned from the shadow cabinet in protest, claiming, according to the Huffington Post, “he had been ordered by the party leader to argue against backing a hike in pay rates.”
In response to the question of party unity versus forming a Labor Government, Sir Keir was adamantly in favor of “winning a general election.” Replied he: “I didn’t come into politics to vote over and over again in Parliament and lose, and then tweet about it. I came into politics to go into government to change millions of lives for the better.”
Champions of “minimal government and maximal liberty” will note the language: That the left aspires for government to “change millions of lives for the better,” and not for individuals, endowed with personal responsibility, to change their own lives, according to their own lights.
As for whether minimum wage laws help or hinder, who can seriously be in doubt? Certainly not free-market icon Henry Hazlitt. “People who would be among the first to point out that minimum price laws might be most harmful to the very industries they were designed to help,” he explained in “Economics in One Lesson,” “will nevertheless advocate minimum wage laws, and denounce opponents of them, without misgivings.”
The illogic of minimum wage laws are apparent to any who are willing to think clearly about them. That sector of the workforce who are to be the putative beneficiaries of minimum wage laws are those most adversely affected: youngsters starting out on the ladder of employment and anyone with poor work records who need “flexibility” to gain needful skills and work habits. “Minimum” wages only exclude them from the workforce, if their productivity does not exceed government-mandated wage rates.
On this score, the Conservative government has little basis to boast of fiscal rectitude. In 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron instituted the “living wage.” Generally speaking, the “minimum wage” focuses on the under 25-age-group, while the “living wage” targets the those older than 25.
Few Tories had the courage then to come out against intrusive government policies in free markets. Now, post-Covid and in the brave new world of the “Great Reset,” there is even less incentive to stand up for economic freedom and against government over-reach.
Cowardice from the Conservatives only emboldens their political rivals: Progressives move ever further to the left, with Tories in their turn with only enough conviction to “hold” the status quo. Thus operates the “ratchet effect” of Margaret Thatcher’s justified ire: British governments moving “convulsively but inexorably to the Left.”
It remains to be seen whether the Conservative party’s two main rivals on the center-right, the Reform party led by Richard Tice and founded by Nigel Farage, and Reclaim led by actor-activist Lawrence Fox, will pick up the standard.
Simple political arithmetic argues that parties will pitch their colors around a popular issue, ergo the seemingly contradictory identifications of center-right and center left. Yet a party that proposes principle over expediency can claim the share of unexpressed electoral opinion. First, though, it must have the courage of its convictions to express views contrary to conventional wisdom.
Such faith in free markets, that themselves, and not government fiat, set wage rates, is not shared by Britain’s Labor supporters. The governing Tories no more than pay lip service to these tenets; their actions in office betray them. A clear battle ground lies open for proponents of economic liberty, were any willing to take the field. Is Reform or Reclaim up to the challenge? Are there any Tories with the courage to convert their own Conservative government?