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?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?