This government would rather kill the living wage than let it fall into the hands of Miliband

But if the living wage is forced on companies who win government contracts, it could change how we think about privatising public services

Share

Yesterday, Ed Miliband’s speech on the living wage included a gaggle of rare concrete policy recommendations. Among them, one has been singled out for particular discussion - the suggestion that “central government” should learn from “local government experience with procurement” and make payment of the living wage a condition for the awarding of major government contracts to large firms.

Following the speech, a rather plaintive sounding Number 10 stuck up its hand to tell on Ed. Altering procurement in this way is all well and good, it claimed, but to do so would be in breach of EU red tape. Miliband has dismissed this as “ridiculous”.

Conservative Boris Johnson, meanwhile, doesn’t seem too fussed about associating himself with the thorny issue, unveiling a London living wage trademark, and praising the living wage’s “red blooded capitalist” appeal.

Whatever the outcome of the legal debate, the government’s open discomfort with the idea of a living wage shows that a nerve’s been hit somewhere. Why is it both government and opposition forces view this idea as so significant?

Perhaps it has to do with the shift in power it offers.

To put this policy into effect would be to employ privatisation of public services as a force for change in business - a very 21st century form of market regulation. It’s a lefty idea at heart, but with its emphasis on government and corporate co-operation in establishing best practice, it won’t alienate the Tory moderates.

This is particularly powerful because recent public outrage at privatisation scandals has been driven by a flow of power in the opposite direction: privatisation has been perceived as a force for change in government, and not for the better.

Over the summer, G4S’s Olympics bungle stirred tabloid ire, but the angle taken was interesting. Rather than expressing doubt at the government’s judgement, or attacking the firm directly, papers led with their fury at the inconvenience to ‘our boys’ caused by the consequent alteration of government plans.

More recently, One Barnet, a mega-outsourcing scheme which would see elements of Barnet’s public services run by private companies, has come under heavy fire, with Councillor Brian Coleman leading the charge.

Coleman’s main beef with the scheme, expressed in a withering article in the Barnet Press, is that it might over-ride the instincts and judgements of councillors. In this, he feels, it is “fundamentally un-conservative”. Once again, the drive to outsource is perceived as driving government compromise.

Privatisation is often seen as an ideological issue, but more often it’s a practical means to right wing ideological ends - the reduction of red tape, the unbiased allocation (and saving) of public money.

The public don't believe that privatisation is providing these ends, and as a consequence bringing this quasi-leftist notion of adding a requirement to offer a living wage to the procurement process has the potential to curry wide favour. A centrist electorate who are suspicious of real or perceived public sector inefficiency but also resent the intrusion of excessive profiteering and cost cutting (and consequent loss of quality) into public life could well welcome a middle way. Policies like Miliband's allow for reliance on private sector expertise but curb the potential for profiteering. If nothing else, a good spin doctor might offer the public the attractive idea of taking some of these bungling firms down a peg or two.

The government is desperate to kill this policy because it is scared that it does not - and cannot - own it. If it falls unimpeded into Miliband’s hands, it could be the Labour leader’s first truly mass-appeal policy, and that’s not something anyone on the increasingly obscurantist right wants to see.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Application Developer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in the centre of Glasgow,...

Recruitment Genius: Production Engineering Manager

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Joinery Shop Foreman

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Joinery Shop Foreman is required to join a p...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Bench Joiner is required to join a privately...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For the sake of the millions of girls who miss vital schooling during their periods, we must dismantle the 'menstrual taboo'

Emily Wilson Smith
 

Rick Santorum’s presidential bid isn’t funny, it’s terrifying

Sirena Bergman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada