Trade minister takes easy runs off over-smart Tory bowling

The Sketch

IF MARGARET Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, was feeling nervous as she contemplated what to wear before her difficult day yesterday, she could be forgiven for having a celebratory drink after her statement on the minimum wage.

The pundits had written her off earlier in the week after her supposed row in cabinet with the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Looking ice-cool in a well-tailored Thatcher-like beige dress and matching jacket, her years of political experience showed that rumours of her forthcoming demise were premature.

Her statement announcing the Government's response to the Low Pay Commission had been well trailed and contained few surprises. She was "supported"by Gordon Brown, sitting next to her muttering and prompting occasionally.

For the Labour backbenchers, who were as nervous as Mrs Beckett, the subject of the greatest controversy was the lower hourly rate of pay for 18- to 21-year-olds

But she handled two potential troublemakers, Lynne Jones (Lab, Birmingham Selly Oak) and John McAllion (Lab, Dundee East) with courtesy, firmness and aplomb. There will be a rebellion of sorts but it may not be life- threatening for her.

Those who had reservations, such as David Winnick (Lab, Walsall North) and Chris Mullin (Lab, Sunderland South), simply turned the attack on to the Tories. Down with the rich! Up with the poor! Mr Winnick said it was "sickening" that Tory MPs were in favour of "starvation wages".

Mrs Beckett rightly fears the fast bowling of John Redwood, the Tory trade and industry spokesman, and he certainly draws blood from the DTI. He described the minimum wage as "fool's gold". He likened the tension between the Chancellor and Mrs Beckett to a mods and rockers' government. "The mods believe you can do it all with soundbites ... the rockers, led by the Chancellor, spend their time trying to break up the manifesto promises."

Mr Redwood is undoubtedly a hard-working performer and if Mrs Beckett is moved to another department he will have played his part along. His main problem is his Tory backbenchers who gave Mrs Beckett very easy runs off bowling too clever by half.

Philip Hammond (Con, Runneymede and Weybridge) asked Mrs Beckett whether she felt humbled at the alleged watering down of the manifesto commitment. "I am always humble but I also feel pride," she replied. Tony Baldry (Con, Banbury) fared no better when he said that the policy would cost jobs. "If he were to give up one of his six jobs' this might help," she said.

Whatever the arguments about this issue, the Tories will be haunted at every future Commons exchange with one simple question: Will they abolish the minimum wage? Mr Redwood should be telling the Tory leader William Hague and the backbenchers what the line is going to be as quickly as he can.

The warm-up act for Mrs Beckett was performed by her admirable junior minister, Ian McCartney, who not only has a welcome sense of humour but is also on top of the job.

A Tory backbencher, Ian Bruce (Con, Dorset South) asked Mr McCartney if he planned to resign for not fulfilling promises on the minimum wage. Mr McCartney had just told the Commons of his pride at the Government's aim to make work pay. Mr Bruce accused him of ranting. Yes he does, but the House loves it and in any exchange Mr McCartney, who may be vertically challenged, will always knock out Mr Bruce.

Mr Bruce demanded Mr McCartney's resignation and wanted the House to "look us in the eye over this matter". Mr McCartney retorted: "I will stand on a box anytime and look you in the eye," to laughter from all sides.

Dave Watts (Lab, St Helens North) addressed him as a privy counsellor. Mr McCartney, to cheers, said: "I have not yet been made a right honourable but I will pass the suggestion on to the Prime Minister. That was a joke." Don't joke, Ian, it may happen sooner than you think.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

£30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

Recruitment Genius: Fence Installer - Commercial

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This privately owned Fencing Co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £22,000

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you answer yes, this company...

Recruitment Genius: Project / Account Manager and IT Support

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in Online Pro...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'