This was the maiden speech given in the House of Commons yesterday by 20-year-old Mhairi Black.
Is there any elected representative from Croydon who could deliver such a stinging rebuke to the political classes with such rhetorical poise, laced with integrity?
The new Scottish Nationalist MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (how proud must Andrew Neil be?), Black said that her party was elected out of a sense of hope: “Hope that there was something different, something better than the Thatcherite, neo-liberal policies that are produced from this chamber.”
Black’s speech compares most favourably with the Wikipedia-sourced and generally hackneyed efforts of all three of Croydon’s MPs who have been elected to Parliament since 2010: Steve Reed OBE, Government whipping boy Gavin Barwell and newcomer Chris Philp.
Black’s speech was given during a Budget debate in which the depths of the assault on women, the poor and the young by Chancellor Gideon Osborne has been exposed.
Osborne grabbed headlines in the Tory-dominated press by saying he wants to introduce what he calls a Living Wage. But he has set it at a level which is £2 less than the already established – though not legally enforceable – London Living Wage.
Not for the first time, politicians are being accused of playing fast and loose with their use of words, to disguise their true meaning and to confuse the public.
There has been a National Minimum Wage, enforced by law, since 1999. It was introduced by the Blair Labour Government. At present, that rate is £6.50 per hour for over 21s, with lesser rates for those younger, going down to as little as £2.73 for apprentices.
Londoners know only too well that it is impossible to make a living in this city on a wage that offers just £260 per week.
The London Living Wage, enthusiastically supported by Tory Mayor Boris Johnson, reflects this, and it is currently set at £9.15 per hour. But this does not have the backing of the law, and is only paid by London employers if they wish to do so. Croydon’s Labour council has a policy that it and all its contractors should pay the Living Wage.
Inside Croydon sought the borough’s Conservative MPs’ views on the Living Wage. In the case of Steve Reed, he is expected to do whatever Harriet Harman tells him, and she has suggested that she wants her party to support Tory Chancellor Osborne’s proposals on welfare reform.
Philp, the MP for Croydon South, said, “I think that companies should pay the Living Wage and I think it should be compulsory to do so. Not paying someone enough to live on is just not right. I have said this publicly.”
In that interview with the Standard, Philp said, “I do not believe that it is possible to live on the current national minimum wage, especially in London.” In a letter to the head of the Low Pay Commission, David Norgrove, Philp asked that they should recommend “significant” rises in the national rate and to consider the case for London having a separate higher rate.
In his Budget, Osborne said he would introduce next year a legally enforceable Living Wage of £7.20 per hour for workers aged 25 and older, the rate increasing to £9 an hour by 2020. There was no mention of any special rate for London. Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader can make their own mind up whether 70p per hour is a “significant” increase, as called for by Philp, for those on the minimum wage.
Philp says that he supports the Budget. “I have been lobbying the Government on this point behind closed doors for the last six months (most recently George Osborne face-to-face about three weeks ago) and I am glad that they have taken the point on board,” Philp said.
But in further remarks, even this loyal Conservative appears to concede that his Chancellor has done little really to alter low pay, and he promises to campaign further. “Getting to £9.00 to £9.35 an hour minimum wage by 2020 goes further than even Labour and the SNP advocated, and is a very welcome step. If the Living Wage in 2020 turns out to be higher than £9.00-£9.35 per hour then I would strongly support increasing the Minimum Wage to whatever that higher Living Wage level is at that time and I will make that case publicly if necessary.
“As an aside, I have always paid higher than the Minimum Wage in any business I have run. The construction projects Pluto Finance has funded generally all pay well above the Minimum Wage, as general labour tends to get paid about £100 for an eight-hour shift and specialist trades more like £200 for a eight-hour shift.”
Philp, as a back bencher, has some latitude in tip-toeing around the Tory party line. Croydon Central MP Barwell does not.
Barwell was returned to Parliament in May with an underwhelming 165-vote majority, and he now has a Government job of ensuring party loyalty. His response on the Living Wage, therefore, will surprise no one, though he does encourage businesses in Croydon to pay that bit more to bring workers’ wage packets up to level backed by Boris.
“I strongly support companies paying the London Living Wage,” Barwell told Inside Croydon. “I am also delighted that in last week’s Budget the Chancellor announced a new, compulsory National Living Wage for everyone aged 25 and over.”
Barwell thinks that 70p an hour is “a significant increase on the current minimum wage”. He adds: “Two and a half million people will directly benefit, with those on the minimum wage seeing their pay rise by more than £5,000 a year over this Parliament.”
He said: “Back in the 1990s, the Conservative Party opposed the introduction of a minimum wage. The fact that we are now significantly increasing it is a sign of how my party has changed for the better. People who work hard in low-paid jobs deserve a pay rise. Under this Government, that is exactly what they’re going to get.”
Barwell, who now has six people working for him in his constituency and Westminster offices, all of them paid by the tax-payer and none of whom have to subsist on the Minimum Wage, also says that, “This announcement is something I have long campaigned for.”
Which is an interesting position to take for someone who less than a year ago tried to flout the Minimum Wage law by recruiting two “interns” to work on his election campaign for six months, for nothing. Oh, and they had to provide their own cars.
But then, Gavin Barwell is a professional politician. And he’s paid a good deal more than £7.20 an hour.
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