Can there be a better example of doublethink than George Osborne’s continuing insistence that ‘we are all in this together’, and his espousal of a multi-tier system of employment rights? On Monday, the chancellor unveiled a working rights waiver plan that sets an alarming precedent – citizens will effectively be paid for ‘trading in’ basic legal entitlements which a naïf like myself assumed are - and must be - universal in any society that professes to call itself civilised.
We can assume that takeup is not likely to be high among multimillionaire trustafarians or the sort of egregious nabob who is wont to dismiss the impertinent functionary on the gate as a ‘pleb’ when he doesn’t do as he’s told. No, the aim is to bribe a large swathe of powerless, insecure and vulnerable people to surrender their citizenship rights for money. And further emasculate trade unions in the process, no doubt (oh happy day!).
This proposal is no more moral or acceptable than paying the poor for their bodily organs. But then what’s wrong with that, come to think of it? It’s a free market after all, and if corporeal entrepreneurialism is to be encouraged then the appropriate tax breaks will not long be delayed.
When Margaret Thatcher spoke of ‘Victorian values’, one would assume that renewing the savagely amoral societal mores captured by Dickens was not what she meant. Or did she? Certain of her disciples seem to think so.
The logic is irresistible.
Why not exempt employers from all health and safety laws if they agree to take on a certain number of school leavers or ‘jobseekers’? Profits will grow. Why not exempt footballing Ferrari owners from the speed limit if they pay an appropriate road tax supplement? The Treasury’s coffers will swell.
Think I’m being hysterical? Then consider the words of Dr Madsen Pirie, of the free-market Adam Smith Institute, uttered as long ago as 1987 and quoted in journalist Francis Wheen’s book How mumbo jumbo conquered the world: a short history of modern delusions.
‘We propose things which people regard as on the edge of lunacy. The next thing you know, they’re on the edge of policy.’
Paul Rogerson is Gazette editor-in-chief
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