'The talented and hard-working have nothing to fear," says Dominic Raab, Conservative MP for Esher and Walton, with just the faintest hint of menace. Photograph: Sutton-Hibbert/Rex Features

From Guardian Letters: ‘Idlers on the government’s backbenches’

Monday 20 August 2012 21.00 BST

It is a bit rich to read about the five MPs from “the class of 2010” who have contributed to a new book, Britannia Unchained, criticising the work ethic of Britons (Report, 18 August). These people currently work for an organisation that has only expected them to attend their place of work for 70 of the 120 weeks since they were elected; that seems quite relaxed about them earning money in their spare time writing newspaper articles and undertaking other part-time work; and that has no problem with them going on overseas trips. Despite graduating from some of this country’s best universities with outstanding qualifications, none of them seems to have ever done much of a real job in their lives, having worked for political groups or sitting politicians before joining the club themselves. What gives such people the right to criticise the work of others? Such a dislocation between those who pontificate and those who try to do their best under stressful circumstances only serves to reinforce the idea that we are becoming a country of lions led by donkeys.
Ray Perham
Ilford, Essex

• It beggars belief that five Tory MPs can accuse British workers of being the “worst idlers in the world”. I’m 68 years old and work full time for my employer, who supplies products to the manufacturing and construction industries. Among both our suppliers and customers are members of staff who are older than the national pension age of 65. I also assure you that my fellow employees are working as hard as ever. The only real reason for idleness in UK industry currently is the enforced austerity programmes inflicted on it by this Tory-led government. This is further proof that the Conservative party do not live in or understand the real world.
Geoff Neal
Beaminster, Dorset 

• If idlers are those who sit on their backsides (or backbenches?) looking complacent, complaining vociferously but doing nothing constructive to get the economy growing, should Tory backbenchers award themselves the title of the best idlers in the world (Letters, 20 August)?
Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Britannia Unchained: the rise of the new Tory right” was written by Andy Beckett, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd August 2012 18.01 Europe/London

“The talented and hard-working have nothing to fear,” says Dominic Raab, Conservative MP for Esher and Walton, with just the faintest hint of menace.

It is an airless, lazy day in mid-August. The House of Commons cafe is half-deserted. But Raab, firm-jawed, slightly gaunt and a rising star of the Tory right, is spending the parliamentary recess in the traditional manner of ambitious politicians: using the Westminster news vacuum to attract attention to himself and his ideas.

Wearing jeans, the 38-year-old backbencher is talking – warily – about transforming the British workplace. He thinks current employment law offers “excessive protections” to workers. “People who are coasting – it should be easier to let them go, to give the unemployed a chance. It is a delicate balancing act, but it should be decided in favour of the latter.”

Last Friday, a leaked fragment from a book co-written by Raab and four other Conservative MPs, Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity, due to be published next month, appeared in the London Evening Standard.

The passage, red meat for phone-ins and columnists ever since, argued less politely for an improvement in our national work ethic: “The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”

Further detailed revelations about the book remain forbidden by a pre-publication embargo. But having read it, I can safely say that Britannia Unchained has a brevity, pace and scope that elevates it a little above the usual pre-party-conference polemics.“Britain is at a crossroads which will define our place in the world for generations,” begins one of its publisher’s sales pitches. “From our economy, to our education system, to social mobility and social justice, we must learn the rules of the 21st century, or we face an inevitable slide into mediocrity.”

When I speak to Raab again after the Evening Standard extract, he says it gave “a skewed and inaccurate reflection of what is in the book”. Yet over the last year he and his co-authors, all of them members of a new Conservative parliamentary faction called the Free Enterprise Group, have made little secret of the harsh medicine they believe Britain needs to take. Last year, for example, Raab wrote a paper for the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) – since the birth of Thatcherism one of the radical right’s fiercest thinktanks – urging that “the definition of fair dismissal should be widened … to encompass inadequate performance … [This] would help employers get the best from their staff.” The paper also argued for exempting small businesses from paying the minimum wage for under-21s, the already less-than-lavish hourly sum of between £3.68 and £4.98.

Raab has been an MP barely two years. Before winning a huge majority of 18,593 in one of the wealthiest seats in the country, he studied law at Oxford and Cambridge, practised in the City of London, and worked at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. He only joined the Conservative party in 2005, after the worst of its modern slump was over. Yet during our interview, it steadily becomes clearer that his confidence derives from more than this assured personal trajectory. There is also his belief that the radical right’s time is coming. “I’m a big Thatcher fan,” he says, dropping his guard a little as the interview approaches its end. “The coalition has done a lot of good incremental work, on the deficit and so on. Do I think we need a more decisive shift to build on what the coalition has done? The answer is a definite yes.”

It may come as a surprise to those who already consider the coalition a tough government, with its hairshirt rhetoric and seemingly endless spending cuts, but a growing number of Tory backbenchers, business figures, commentators and thinkers feel that the coalition – and by implication, other austerity governments across the west – is not nearly tough enough. Since 2011, as the British economy has slumped, this energetic but largely unnoticed political alliance, somewhere between a lobby group and a proper movement, has begun to show its strength.

Since last autumn there has been the smouldering controversy about the Beecroft Report, a government-commissioned review of employment law by the powerful venture capitalist and Tory donor Adrian Beecroft. His recommendations, even more wide-ranging than Raab’s – including the loosening of regulations covering the employment of children – have so far proved too contentious to be adopted by the increasingly fragile coalition. But they have become close to a sacred cause for the administration’s proliferating critics in the rightwing press.

Sometimes the demands for bolder government are frank: “Come on Dave, be brave,” [paywall] urged the Sunday Times in May. “A bonfire of regulation was promised, but few businesses report any relaxation in red tape.” Sometimes the demands are more oblique: last month, a series of Daily Telegraph articles themed as “Britain Unleashed” mixed essays on the virtues of unfettered capitalism with admiring references to other countries – usually Asian – where supposedly more red-blooded free markets operate.

In January, the chief executive of Britain’s biggest insurer Prudential, Tidjane Thiam, told the annual gathering of the global elite at Davos that across Europe, “the minimum wage is a machine to destroy jobs.”

Speaking at the South Bank Centre in London the following week, the far-sighted BBC economics journalist and author Paul Mason interpreted Thiam’s remarks as a sign of an emerging “more radical version of neoliberalism, where we’re basically, finally, told: ‘The race to the bottom, to be like China, is on, and we’re all going to do it. So your wages will meet the Chinese somewhere, and so will your social conditions … abolish minimum wages, abolish social protection.” In the audience, which had gathered to hear Mason talk about the leftwing, street-politics response to the economic crisis, not a formidable new rightwing one as well, there were a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.

“The European economic and welfare model – I think it’s over,” says Mark Littlewood, director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), like the CPS a veteran British free-market thinktank reinvigorated by current possibilities. He favours cutting state spending in Britain by over a third, and leaving citizens with a “basic safety net”. Yet he finds the coalition far too cautious. “There has been an incredibly modest reduction in public spending. It’s as if the coalition have arrived at the scene of a road accident: they’ve urgently applied a tourniquet to the bleeding patient, but that’s it. There’s no rehabilitation programme to make the patient leaner, meaner, fitter.” In part, he blames Tory fears about their party becoming “retoxified”: “I’ve argued at the top levels of government, ‘Scrap the minimum wage.’ But then there’s a sharp intake of breath. Anything that looks like a return to the Dickensian workhouse raises hackles. But I don’t want people working in sweatshops at 5p an hour. You should sell abolishing the minimum wage in positive terms, as providing young people with a first step on the jobs ladder, as a ‘jobs for all’ scheme.”

Tim Montgomerie, editor of the influential Tory website Conservative Home, says the coalition has placed itself in the worst of both worlds, “talking tough but not acting tough”. Also, until late 2008, well into the financial crisis, the Tories supported increases in public spending over deficit reduction; then they abruptly reversed their position. Montgomerie argues that this opportunistic radicalism is not respected by voters, hence the government’s poor poll ratings. Like Littlewood and others, he favours a more authentically bold approach, a “rescue plan for the country” involving much deeper spending cuts, a loosening of the planning system and reduced employee protections.

“It’s a pretty depressing time for the Conservative party,” says Montgomerie, “but the thing that gives me hope is the [parliamentary] class of 2010, and all the groups they’ve formed. Of those groups, the Free Enterprise Group is the group. They’re quite spiky in their opinions, but well respected by the Conservative leadership. They are George Osborne’s favourites. He has spoken to them. In some ways, it helps him to have them, so he can say, ‘I’m not the [government’s rightwing] outrider.'” In June, a cover story on the group in the Tory house magazine the Spectator announced, “Not since the late 1970s has there been a group of Tories thinking so hard, with such freedom, about the future of their country.”

Founded in October 2011, the group lists 38 supporting MPs on its website. The membership is youngish, more female and less white than the Conservative parliamentary party as a whole. It includes many of the new MPs currently identified by Tory-watchers as potential party leaders, including Raab, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Elizabeth Truss. The fact that David Cameron leads a coalition rather than a Conservative administration has given the group a rare freedom to criticise government policy and suggest alternatives. Sometimes these are less fearsome than you might expect – Raab likes the French healthcare system; Truss admires the German economy – but often the foreign models cited are Asian, and the underlying message for Britons is relentless: raw capitalism is the only game in town, and you need to start working much harder. “We can all graft,” says Raab.

See also: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/aug/17/tory-backbenchers-urge-welfare-reforms

The group do not expect this revolution to happen overnight. Last year, Raab and his co-authors published a predecessor to Britannia Unchained for a smaller publisher, titled After the Coalition: A Conservative Agenda for Britain. “The last 30 years of public debate in Britain has been dominated by leftwing thinking,” the introduction rather startlingly declared, as if the transformative 18 years of the Thatcher and Major governments had never happened. On the new radical right, there is sometimes a reluctance to compare the changes envisaged for Britain to Thatcherism: partly, you suspect, because the supposed need for these changes implies that her rightwing project, to a degree, failed; and partly because she was just so divisive. “Raab and the Free Enterprise Group are a million miles away from Norman Tebbit in the way they present their arguments,” says Littlewood.

Yet he and the others may have to wait longer than the next general election before implementing their vision of what you could call “austerity max”. A Tory majority in 2015 looks increasingly unlikely, let alone one big enough to sustain a truly iconoclastic government. And would ever more radical policies really revive the party’s sagging popularity? Labour leftwingers were derided in the early 80s for making exactly that argument. History proved their critics at least partly right. Also, Montgomerie acknowledges, all the coalition’s austerity rhetoric since 2010 means that “Toughness is a harder sell now [for the Tory radicals]. The government has already played the ‘tough’ card.”

Public opinion has turned flintier in recent years on welfare spending. But such a mood swing often occurs at the end of Labour administrations and the beginning of Conservative ones, and often reverses, into distaste at an “uncaring” government, once the British right has been in power for a few years. The popular mandate for the coalition’s broader spending cuts, if it ever truly existed, has already crumbled. And on tax and capitalism in general, public opinion is, if anything, moving leftwards, as tax cheats and feckless bankers solidify into popular demons. Littlewood admits, “There isn’t yet a readiness from the British public to say, ‘We’ve got to go back to the [rightwing] drawing board.'”

In radical right circles, it is strikingly common to hear comparisons between Cameron’s government and that of his Tory predecessor Edward Heath: narrowly elected in 1970, briefly tough before a chaos of U-turns, replaced in 1974 by an often equally beleaguered Labour administration – before the right’s big moment finally arrived in 1979, with Thatcher’s election. If history repeats, which it rarely does exactly, we should expect the Unchaining of Britannia to commence in 2019.

In the meantime, after half a decade, already, of widespread pay freezes and anxiety, and with Labour under Ed Miliband quietly accepting that they will next hold power in hard times too – “There is a new world out there,” the much-tipped young Labour backbencher Stella Creasy recently told this paper, “in the next [government] spending review absolutely everything should be on the table” – the toughening-up of Britain is arguably well underway.

Are we a nation of idlers? I’m not sure we were completely complacent even during the fat years of the 90s. Here is Tony Blair at the 1999 Labour conference: “All around us the challenge of change … technological revolution … global finance and communications … These forces … wait for no one and no nation.” Perhaps it is the fate of all old nations to be told to pull their socks up by politicians.

See also:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/20/release-inner-tiger-economy-well

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/19/britian-labour-figures-hide-real-workload

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/aug/17/tory-backbenchers-urge-welfare-reforms

The Workers’ Song Words & Music : Ed Pickford Lyric as sung by Dick Gaughan: http://youtu.be/nrdl4ijru8o

Come all of you workers who toil night and day
By hand and by brain to earn your pay
Who for centuries long past for no more than your bread

Have bled for your countries and counted your dead
In the factories and mills, in the shipyards and mines
We’ve often been told to keep up with the times
For our skills are not needed, they’ve streamlined the job
And with sliderule and stopwatch our pride they have robbed

But when the sky darkens and the prospect is war
Who’s given a gun and then pushed to the fore
And expected to die for the land of our birth
When we’ve never owned one handful of earth?

We’re the first ones to starve the first ones to die
The first ones in line for that pie-in-the-sky
And always the last when the cream is shared out
For the worker is working when the fat cat’s about

All of these things the worker has done
From tilling the fields to carrying the gun
We’ve been yoked to the plough since time first began
And always expected to carry the can

http://youtu.be/nrdl4ijru8o

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Comments
  • JJ August 27, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Bookwhore
    22 August 2012 6:17PM
    “He favours cutting state spending in Britain by over a third, and leaving citizens with a “basic safety net””

    A ‘basic safety net’ for all would actually be an improvement over what we have now. So, clueless as well as evil.

  • JJ August 27, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    bleeper
    17 August 2012 10:24PM
    ” According to leaked extracts from the book, Britannia Unchained – Global Growth and Prosperity, five Tory MPs from the “class of 2010” call for a culture of “graft, risk and effort” to propel Britain into the “superleague” of nations. ”

    How about creating even the teeniest bit of growth first, before we talk about promotion to the Premiership? Just a tiny bit would do. Just to show you can do it. Go on, amaze us!

    “Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.”

    Ah, now those in employment are feckless scroungers too.

  • JJ August 27, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Jessthecrip
    17 August 2012 10:25PM
    Britons work amongst the longest hours in Europe, those lucky enough to have jobs that is.

    Forget taking us back to the Victorian era, these Tory idiots clearly want to return us to the middle ages when many Britons were serfs, a condition close to slavery.

  • Lovejoy August 27, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    ‘“The last 30 years of public debate in Britain has been dominated by leftwing thinking,” the introduction rather startlingly declared, as if the transformative 18 years of the Thatcher and Major governments had never happened.’

    And let’s not forget the ten years of Blair! How did that promote left wing thinking?!

  • owen meharry August 27, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    I am classed as disabled, but it wasn’t always the case a chef to trade I had to work long hours, my last job was in the village where i lived I would leave home at 4-30am and not get home again until 4-30 in the afternoon and had to go cap in hand for Tax Credits as the wage I was on no one could actually live on, and I could not work Overtime as it would affect my credits. So I was only allowed to earn so much and NO MORE. I am nearly 60 years of age and have worked for many of them and learned quite a bit about the job market and saw first hand workers giving their all for their employer, Why? they were paid a living wage. Pay peanuts and you get Monkey’s, Pay a good wage and you get PROFITS and a happy worker

  • hedleylamarr August 27, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Where to start with this one!!

    Firstly, it has been a ghastly day for me. I haven’t been able to get to a festival because of travelling and weather problems. The consolation lunch out was not good – having failed to get into a favourite place cos it was closed and having to take a second choice. It’s bloody raining, windy and dark, ever so dark. How I long for some daylight, some sun before we go into winter again …..

    Exactly who do these bastards think they are?? They talk as if we work for them. As if we are the vessels through which they achieve greatness. They are nothing short of fascist pigs. I know, fascism is bandied about – but it is very evident in these writings. I have to ask when does a tory think? I mean the two words are exclusive and make no sense when in the same sentence…..

    I didn’t make the economic crisis, let’s get that straight. So why should I, as a disabled person, take the blame? My understanding is that all MPs are supposed to work for us, the population. They are paid BY US. They represent us. hey are NOT our bosses. I bet that none of this gang of 5 have ever asked anybody outside their elitist circle anything about anything. Most probably wouldn’t know a disabled person or a poor person or whoever even when they stand on them.

    This is just more evidence that fascism in the UK is growing. That all the hard won gains for humanity are being eroded and dismantled at a pace so that the self nominated elites can take more and more of the wealth of the nation. There is nothing here about the citizens of the UK BEING THE WEALTH – no, these guys want cash to store in offshore banks for themselves. They are truly moronic bastards of the highest order and demand a thoroughly good beating.

    • hedleylamarr August 27, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Forgot to say they are also liars, thieves, scoundrels, shit-faced pigs and nasty (nazi)

  • Laz August 27, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    A reasonabe % of disabled were made that way through industrial related illnesses and diseases which John Major gave the Tax payer the bill for payment .He protected buisness ,insurance and the banks by putting a three year time limit on those needing to claim when a lot of SYMPTOMS ONLY SHOW LATER IN LIFE.EU has overturned this for foregn workes but we are not told .
    Not that long ago it was noted that britsh workers work longer hours than any group in western Europe but now these Tory Boys who incidently were still in prep school when most of us were grafting start spouting this S—E. Complete propaganda and obviously part of larger Agenda by the Elite who want a cheap unprotected labour pool they can abuse.
    Fear is the easiest way to control but sooner or later their blatant manipulation will be what sows the seed of their downfall.

  • Joanna Terry August 27, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    My illness was caused by the NHS, yes I know it’s not a nice thing to have to say but do you remember under Thatcher all the cleaning was contracted out, then we had an epidemic of MRSA. Well my illness even though it was caused by the NHS is in fact the direct result of Thatchers policies, so I don’t blame the hospital, as is happening now the political influence showed, we are in for a lot worse under the decimation of our health care. What I would dearly love to do is throw the lot under a bus and see how they would like it but since it is unlikely they will ever be near one it is just wishful thinking. That is the problem, they are never near where the real action is, yet like leeches they suck and suck and suck, one day they will suck the animal dry and then there will be no one left to shine their shoes or launder their clothes but we cannot wait for that, we do not deserve to have to wait for that, we are SO MUCH BETTER THAN ALL OF THEM.

  • Andrew Healey August 28, 2012 at 2:48 am

    We had a nation of excellent workers who produced goods that were the envy of the world, goods that were sought and bought the world over. Workers who fought for the right to a decent wage for a decent days labour, they got it and the bosses got first class goods to make their wealth with.Every body happy, houses being bought, cars, holidays. Government doing secret deals with foreign agencies to import cheap British copies customer pays loads of import tax Exchequer getting rich Government getting greedy.Heath the teeth lies through them and takes Britain into one of the most corrupt clubs ever thought of, Most of our G.D.P starts to disappear in membership fees. I honestly think Heath didn’t know what he was doing ( he never did). Instead of investing in British Industry we were sold off bit by bit. When I started work in 1971 I could not count how many engineering, joinery, manufacturing firms there were,just in Bolton alone. Walk out of a job at dinner time and start work elsewhere an hour later. Government decides it needs more revenue, does more dodgy deals with foreign companies, still no investment in British industry we can’t compete.Some workers form Co-ops trying to keep world renowned names alive, still punitive if any investment. Owners and investors start to sell up and pull out, grab the money and run. Government allows the import of even more cheap crap. British workers no longer needed, apprenticeships done away with, employers allowed to take on school leavers £10.00 a week Y.T.S I believe the government paid half My first full wage was £1.93 for 49 hours, my first wage was £1.73 that was for 4 days. When I had been there 3 month I was paid about £3.50 a week. I worked for a Tory who thought I should have doffed my cap every morning and praised him for the job he had given me. He charged £7.50 an hour for my time I was priced to the customer at a time served mechanic at the age of 16. I made that bastard some days 27 hours of labour charges. The customer was charged 3 hours for a full service I did the job in an hour, do the math. I was doing M.O.Ts illegally, resurfacing clutch pressure plates on a lathe while he charged for new ones. oh and this man was head mason in the local lodge and then his brother in law followed him. This was also a main agent for a world renowned make of vehicle.Tories rotten to the core. Volkswagen in the 70s paid for 2 weeks holiday for every worker every year, remember this company was started in the ashes of Germany after WW2 by a British army captain, where are they now ? Its amazing what investment will do but this country has had 40 years of government smash and grab, Thatcher the worst of all, the enemy within was spot on. Education, Health, Industry, the care of elderly, sick and or disabled once all the envy of the world and paid for by the British work force. Something they sold out long ago. We the British people own nothing not even our drinking water. Don’t forget either, Blair made millions along with his cronies with the sell off of B.L, M.G. You cannot trust any of them. A General Strike and a nation wide march on Parliament before 2015 is the only thing that will stop this madness. Every one knows who the guilty are, and where they are. After more than 35 years of hard physical work and wages that were not enough to get a cheap mortgage for myself, my reward is Arthritis in a multilevel Degenerated Spine in my Hands, Legs, Feet and Groin the pain of which is indescribable and constant. Nerves trapped in my Spine that affect both my Arms and Hands this pain I’ve had constant 24/7 for the last 7 years it’s something else when the Arthritis kicks in. Oh and a few months ago I find out I have Emphysema. In 1990 I started my own Business I worked 20 hour days, 7 days a week for 12 months. I had to take on a partner because the bank would not believe my business plan with a turnover of £60.000 a year, and lend me £5.000 , My first year I did almost £90.000 turnover. After 2 and a 1/2 years my so called partner emptied the account ( this was a silent partner I did the work) and left me with nothing but debt. I’ve grafted all my working life and I miss it, Disability stops me now but as of April next year Atos have cured me I still can’t walk without extreme pain I’ve not had a nights sleep since I can’t remember when, I could write a book about the pain alone. I would risk death to meet these prats face to face so they could tell me I’m feckless and lazy, their Balls if they have any would be joining their Tonsils and I would cheerfully snuff it with a smile on my face, pain forgotten.

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