The Spectator's Notes

Charles Moore’s Notes: the Tories’ adoption of the Living Wage is entirely bogus

Plus: the paedophile hunt is beyond satire; Germany redeemed; and a nightmare about the Pope

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

Was there ever a more unilluminating political idea — for voters rather than practitioners — than triangulation? For those readers so pure and high-minded that they have not followed politics for 20 years, I should explain that triangulation came from Bill Clinton, was imported by Tony Blair, and is now practised by David Cameron. Clinton’s adviser, Dick Morris, put it thus: ‘The President needed to take a position that not only blended the best of each party’s views but also transcended them to constitute a third force in the debate.’ The Tories’ adoption of the Living Wage is the latest example. This concept, almost as mystically bogus as the medieval concept of the Just Price, is an entirely left-wing one, but Mr Cameron believes it helps him claim (see Tuesday’s Times) that his is ‘the true party of working people’ while he cuts benefits at the same time. It may well help him electorally, of course: he is timing it to reach the specific sum of £9 per hour for those over 25 in the year of the next general election. But the Living Wage is simply bound to slow the creation of new jobs and encourage the shedding of old ones (and/or swell the black market), because it makes jobs artificially expensive. It will drive automation and work against small and struggling firms. Whereas today the minimum wage is paid to 5 per cent of workers, it is estimated that the Living Wage, by 2020, will be paid to 11 per cent. So a Conservative government is quite fast developing an incomes policy. The triangle will eventually go pear-shaped.

The more one thinks about the current witch-hunt against alleged paedophiles in the establishment, the more beyond satire it seems. What mordant novelist could have imagined, even ten years ago, that the police would be devoting massive amounts of their time to investigating famous people who were a) suspected on no actual evidence and b) dead and therefore beyond the reach of the law? Yet it has happened. It just goes to show that even a society which self-consciously prides itself on its tolerance will always contain those who are desperately searching for people to ruin and then to scream at those who suggest they might be wrong, and — which is worse — that the authorities will cave in to their menaces. What is odder still, at a time when gay rights trump everything, is that behind a good deal of the current obsession lies the old idea that an unmarried man must be homosexual and that a homosexual is scarcely distinguishable from a child-abuser. This seems to be the basis, for instance, of the suspicion of Sir Edward Heath. Why do the police stop there? Why not exhume the private lives of other bachelor prime ministers — A.J. Balfour, Pitt the Younger, the Earl of Wilmington?

‘Germany! Germany!’ shouted the crowds of would-be migrants in Budapest station this week. It may be difficult for that country to admit so many at once but, given the German past, could there be any better evidence of its absolute redemption than such a cry, from such lips?

An MP tells me that he not only has to keep a separate diary for private engagements, but has to make sure that his secretary does not know what these engagements are lest she start to assist with them on a publicly funded computer system, thus laying herself and her boss open to the charge of misusing taxpayers’ money. We seem to have reached a point at which we trust the people we elect so little that there is really no point in electing them.

Oliver Sacks, who has just died, had an exceptional understanding which must have come, in part, from how strange he was himself. One tends to be suspicious of psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, even neurologists (which Sacks was) because of their apparent superiority to the conditions which they examine and their consequent detachment from their patients as actual people. Sacks, I think, had none of this. There is a very touching essay of his called ‘The Lost Mariner’. In 1975, in New York, he treated Jimmie, a man who could remember nothing that had happened after 1945, while remaining perfectly clear about everything before it. Nothing in the present seemed to reach Jimmie. Sacks considered him a ‘lost soul’ and said so to the nuns at the home where he (though an atheist) worked. ‘Watch Jimmie in chapel,’ they said. Sacks writes: ‘I did, and was profoundly moved and impressed, because I saw an intensity and steadiness of attention and concentration that I had never seen before in him… I watched him kneel and take the Sacrament on his tongue, and could not doubt … the perfect alignment of his spirit with the spirit of the Mass…. There was no forgetting …for he was absorbed in an act, an act of his whole being.’ A similar effect came through music, art and gardening. Sacks wrote about such things so well not only because he was an extremely intelligent observer but because he was sympathetic, in the exact sense that he felt with the person he observed. Instead of attempting, vainly, to cure the human condition, he wanted to be ever more fully part of it.

Two recent nightmares were so vivid that they woke me up. In the first, I shot a flanker on a grouse-moor. In the second, the night after, Pope Francis was at some gathering in which he suddenly burst into a song-and-dance routine. The first, I am glad to say, had no foundation in fact. I wish I could say the same, with absolute confidence, about the second.

An American friend who has just read volume one of my biography of Margaret Thatcher asks for elucidation of three terms of what he calls English ‘slang’ in it. My answers are — ‘privileges granted to labour unions excusing them from legal suits against secondary picketing etc’, ‘T bills’, and ‘French kissing’. See if you can guess the original phrases.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Trade union ‘immunities’, the ‘gilts’ market, ‘massive snog’.

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  • AJH1968

    The high
    profile witch hunt seems to be a deliberate deception on the part of the
    establishment for the ‘tail to wag the dog’. The failure of establishment to
    protect the most vulnerable of our society against predatory rape gangs for
    fear of offending those who are so easily offended. The whole sorry saga has
    reached ludicrous levels with the ‘piece de resistance’ being the televised
    raid of the South Yorkshire Police (or those who so ignominiously failed the
    young girls of Rotherham) on Cliff Richards house.

    • Peter Stroud

      My wife and I watched the raid on Cliff Richards’s house in amazement. We are both old enough to remember when police would not think of giving out the name of a suspect until he/she had been charged. Furthermore, it was disgraceful of the BBC to collaborate with the police, to make a programme of a raid on a celebrity’s home, without even notifying him. Now we have the name of a long dead politician banded about in connection with crimes that have yet to be investigated. I thought such events only happened in banana republics.

      • GUBU


        One assumes that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate allegations of a criminal offence several decades earlier, and certainly not to the point at which it would meet criminal standards of proof.

        However, the police seem to be doing their best to overcome that obstacle through the simple ruse of inviting further allegations to be made. Hence the publicity generated around their fishing expedition at Mr Richard’s home.

        Banana, anyone?

        • davidshort10

          I’m glad GUBU knows the name is Cliff Richard not Cliff Richards.

          • GUBU

            Strictly speaking, if we were being pedantic, the name is actually Harry Webb.

            But anyone who admits to pedantry these days would probably be under investigation by at least six police forces by tomorrow morning.

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          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            Cliff Richard may be a paedophile.

            Cliff Richard’s paedophilia allegations.

            Proper English.

          • davidshort10

            Read the first line of Peter Stroud’s contribution.

    • hdb

      ‘Predatory rape gangs’. Hmmm. Or out of control fifteen year olds who can’t keep their knickers on?

      I am surprised to see people going all PC on the Speccy.

      • imbenfogle

        well, it’s certainly difficult for fifteen year olds to keep their knickers on when they are being pulled off my multiple adult men.

        ‘There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.’

        I kindly suggest you read the independent inquiry into this, before you make such ignorant remarks.

      • A real liberal

        Are you perhaps a labour politician, council officer or police officer from South Yorkshire? Or an even more dangerous person?

      • Guilttripjunkie

        Moral bankrupt.

  • Abie Vee

    An entirely left-wing one? Winston Churchill put the argument in support of The Trade Board Acts in 1909 thus: “It is a serious national evil that any class of His Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions.”

    • jeremy Morfey

      Quite agree. The whole premise on which this Government was elected was that:

      1. Any one person working full time should be able to support a family at subsistence level without resorting to borrowing or charity.

      2. While Government has responsibility to society to avoid destitution, those working should be rewarded for their efforts against those who aren’t.

      The mechanism to achieve these two objectives is up to the Government of the day. They could force or pay employers to raise pay at least to beyond benefit levels (they’d have to be to provide adequate incentives to work), or they could subsidise certain subsistence items (food, housing, energy and travel to work) and taxes (most significantly Council Tax) so that the cost of living goes down and subsistence can be achieved on a lower wage.

      Endeavours to achieve these objectives have been somewhat stymied by the Budget Deficit and tax avoidance, particularly at senior corporate level. It is further discredited by tales of the consequences of target sanctioning of welfare claimants that can lead to unfair hardship. Finally, the threat of mass movements of people caused by national destabilisations abroad is bound to put strain on public finance.

      I do not see why all of these cannot be addressed and overcome by a Conservative Government, unless there are some corrupt conflicts of interests at play.

      One obvious obstacle any Government will face is the lack of proper employment opportunities, and I am not speaking of those that cherry-pick the young and dynamic and consign the rest of us to “we wish you every success in your future life”, which actually means “you are worthless, and we don’t care”.

      If they really cannot sort it out, then the left, in the person of Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon, is ready and waiting.

    • Rush_is_Right

      Would that apply equally in a country that had been filled up with imported cheap labour?

      • Abie Vee

        If there was such a place.I

    • SimonToo

      That was during his time as a Liberal.

      • Abie Vee

        Only a Tory could call Liberals left-wing. They are centrist.

  • Money Pump

    I own a SME and employ 45 people. Before the crash I employed 65. The proposed increase in the living wage cannot be absorbed and I will be forced to increase my prices signicantly. In the end my customers will pass these increases on to their consumers, and prices will rise. This will serve to erode the benefit of the pay rise received. It’s known as Money Illusion. Getting paid more does not necessarily mean you are better off if prices are increasing as well. This is an inflationary move which will help erode the debt burden in real terms.

    • Des Demona

      How many of your 45 staff are on working tax credits, housing benefit and other in work benefits because you don’t pay them a proper living wage?
      Count yourself lucky the UK taxpayer is so generous with you.

      • Money Pump

        Crikey, that response is loaded with assumptions!

        • Des Demona

          Not really. From your post you say if the minimum wage goes up it will mean you have to put prices up – meaning you must be paying a lot of your staff close to the minimum wage, or else a rise would not overly affect you.
          Most people at or close to the minimum wage require help in the form of tax credits and other benefits – which of course are provided by the UK taxpayer, so if they are assumptions they are evidentially based. In effect your profits are in fact tax payers money. That’s socialism for you!

          • Tom M

            Well you cleverly deduced that Money Pump was paying close to the minimum wage. A fair point.
            However you then went on, as many do when commenting on minimum wage, to assume that he is making a profit that can absorb a wage rise. That too you will have to prove before you can reach that conclusion. Your prejudice will be showing otherwise.

          • Des Demona

            No I didn’t assume he was making a profit that could absorb a pay rise, I assumed that any profit would be enhanced or any loss reduced by the amount of in work benefits his employees need to receive to top up their wages by in effect a state subsidy.

          • Tom M

            What sort of logic is that?
            Your telling us that if he raises is wage bill he will make more profit or reduce his losses!
            And no it is not a State subsidy on his operating costs it is a State subsidy on the salary of his employees that the business needs to pay.
            I agree if the subsidy didn’t exist then all employers would have to pay more to their employees. But then that’s the best reason never to have embarked on the daft scheme in the first place.

          • Des Demona

            I don’t think you have read my post properly regarding profit.

            ”And no it is not a State subsidy on his operating costs”

            But then you go on to say that is exactly what it is? Salary tends to be a major component of any business’s operating costs?

            ”it is a State subsidy on the salary of his employees that the business needs to pay.
            I agree if the subsidy didn’t exist then all employers would have to pay more to their employees.”

          • Money Pump

            We pay over the minimum wage. When it increases to £9+ by 2020, we will see a significant increase in our wage bill which will be impossible to absorb. Yes we make a profit. We generate corporation tax, income tax, VAT, national insurance etc. Perhaps you would prefer us to close and everyone claim even more benefits. Also, do you think Sainsburys will be able to absorb the increase without putting up their prices? They have increased their basic pay to £7.36 (the NML will be £7.20 in April). And the effect on the already cash strapped NHS is anyone’s guess.

          • Des Demona

            Increasing to £9 by 2020 is pretty much where the minimum wage was forecast to be after inflation. So unless you planned to give your staff less than inflation rises that is pretty much where you’d be in any event.

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            You will generate a lot more tax and NICs at £9 an hour.

        • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

          But correct. His German counterparts have survived for years on East German and later Slovakian and Polish cheap labour, now they need cheaper, they need a million Syrians.
          Syrians are the easy option for a country with 2 million Turks. Easy to assimilate.

    • Rush_is_Right

      At least you are in the position you are able to increase your prices. When, many years ago, I worked in the Care business the minimum wage came in, shortly followed by an increase in paid holiday entitlements) and payroll costs all but doubled. And because fee levels were and are “negotiated with” (in reality set by) local authorities, they didn’t go up at all. Stuck between a fixed income and rising costs many businesses struggled to survive and many ceased trading.

      • Money Pump

        I have heard about the constraints in the Care sector and I agree the regulations are impossible. You may think I am lucky that I can put my prices up, but that does not mean that my customers will not go elsewhere (primarily China and India) and I lose the business anyway.

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      The Living wage is Osborne’s clumsy attempt to put a bit of inflation back in the system. We have been in deflation since 10th July and he is desperate.

  • 1958Paul

    I take it Mr Moore will be quite happy to earn less than £9 an hour then? And do his bit to help the ailing economy?

  • 1958Paul

    And Mr Moore will also support the police in not investigating other types of crime that happened sometime ago?

  • hdb

    I think the need to lower the benefits bill means that the minimum wage must increase. Cameron is being eminently sensible. Most people who claim Housing Benefit are in work! Basically, HB is an employers subsidy which allows firms to pay less than what the going rate would be if the government wasn’t topping up incomes in this way. After five years of IDS reforms it is quite clear there is only so much you can shave off the total benefits bill without tackling this massive problem.

  • LoveMeIamALiberal

    The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates Osborne’s Living Wage will cost 60,000 jobs and 4m working hours (ie. employers will cut hours to reduce their costs). Given that many low paid workers are in the public sector or contracted to deliver public sector services, there will also be a cost increase to HM Government, not great at a time of budget tightening.

    The Minimum Wage is set by the Low Pay Commission whose remit is to maximise wages whilst not risk the employment opportunities of the low paid. Striking this delicate balance has made the Minimum Wage an accepted part of the political landscape. By introducing his Living Wage, Osborne either thinks the LPC are wrong (though he has presented no evidence) or thinks the loss of 60,000 jobs is a rice worth paying for political kudos and some people earning more.

    • Des Demona

      The ‘Living Wage” is simply a re-branding of the minimum wage which was forecast to rise to about the same levels in the same timescales that Osborne announced for the Living Wage.
      Smoke and mirrors.

    • mdj

      If work doesn’t pay enough to live on, I would query the use of the word ‘job’.

      Do bank managers approve loans to prospective employers whose calculations presume state support for their employees?

      • LoveMeIamALiberal

        The meaning of the word ‘job’ is well understood, much as you might like to re-define it. Compare the income of someone in a minimum wage job to someone who is unemployed if in doubt.

        Your question is irrelevant to the subject under discussion.

  • John P Hughes

    The absurd and unjustified police raid on Cliff Richard’s house (in Surrey, but by South Yorkshire Police!) and the behaviour of Wiltshire Police over the vague allegations about Edward Heath may have had some beneficial political consequences. The Home Secretary has not spoken publicly about these and related goings-on but may be as annoyed about them as the many critics that have spoken out. The plan to keep down (or cut) police budgets which the Government is adhering to has been made easier for Theresa May, because of the conduct of some forces who have been wasting money on such activities.
    Mike Penning who is the Police Minister at the Home Office since the election (MP for Hemel Hempstead) is a former fireman and so knows from his own earlier life where money goes to waste or is poorly used in public services. It may be that May and Penning together are a tough enough Ministerial team to face down the bleatings of the police in England, whereas previous Junior Ministers (eg Nick Herbert, who was returned to the backbenches) were not and Mrs May didn’t then have the team she needed.

  • timworstall

    Gilts and T bills, not so much. Gilts and Treasuries, yes.

    Americans make rather more of the difference between notes ( short term), bills (medium) and bonds (long term) than we do. So, T bills would refer to only that medium term market, while Treasuries refers to all three, as gilts does.

  • Tom Dawkes

    You write – in reference to Oliver Sacks – “One tends to be suspicious of psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, even neurologists (which Sacks was) because of their apparent superiority to the conditions which they examine and their consequent detachment from their patients as actual people”. Perhaps the apparent superiority is rather that shown by journalists, who seem willing to write on any topic under the sun, happy to dismiss the considered opinions of ‘experts’.