Wednesday’s post on the Beecroft report aroused quite a bit of interest, including a re-print, with a not so snarky title, in Legal Week. It also led to me being called a leftie in various places, just as, a few weeks ago, my Peak State post saw me labelled as a shrink-the-state Tory in others. Pigeon-holing is lazy but, alas, the Guilt by Association fallacy is some people’s default mode of argument.
Criticism of the Beecroft report is not confined to the left though. Here’s Peter Oborne in the Telegraph:
Mr Beecroft, along with his Conservative admirers, has taken a very dangerous wrong turning. The kind of untrammelled free market capitalism which Mr Beecroft is advocating is inhumane, unedifying and unBritish, and ultimately comes close to the false proposition that the Conservative Party should be the plaything of very rich men pursuing their financial interests at the expense of a disempowered workforce.
The consequences of Beecroft’s proposals would, says Oborne, be disastrous.
He’s not alone. Ed West, no leftist he, was equally scathing when the report was first leaked:
[U]nions are there for a reason, and so are employment laws – and Britain’s are already among the most flexible in Europe.
Britain certainly needs more jobs, but are we happy to pay the social cost from having more temporary, unprotected, deskilled and de-unionised labour? We already have among the highest inequality levels in Europe, the biggest gap between management and workers, and in many areas a workforce that is short-term, demotivated and unproductive, and with wages sunk by cheap foreign imports.
Contrary to the idea banded about in the less thoughtful areas of political discourse, conservatism is not about protecting the rich: it is about creating an environment that is safe, sober, crime-free, respectful, educated, gentle and high in social capital and trust. In other words, about protecting the poor and weak. Until the Conservative Party realises this, they will continue to haemorrhage support.
This is another example of the tension between two strands of conservatism that I wrote about last week. Traditional conservatism has a visceral loathing of disorder. It therefore values social cohesion above free-market economics and is wary of anything that might threaten it. It is not surprising, then, that it was Conservative governments that gave us some of the earliest health and safety legislation, protection from the criminal law for employees in contract disputes, compensation for injuries at work, the first employment protection and, of course, laws against unfair dismissal.
The motives of conservatives may be different from those of liberals and socialists but each had their own reasons for regulating the labour market and bringing in employment protection. Many of them are, therefore, just as uneasy about the prospect of its removal.
But my favourite conservative comment on the Beecroft report comes not from a politician or pundit but from a Kentish business owner, Gary Bennett, commenting on this pro-Beecroft piece by Charles Orton-Jones:
The views expressed in this article and by Beecroft typify a definite “type” of business and management style endemic in certain parts of the conservative party lunatic fringe, which seems to want to use the current economic crisis as an excuse to turn the clock back to the early 19th century where employees had few, if any, rights.
As a conservative supporter and small business owner there are many things I disagree with Vince Cable (and the Trade Union movement) on but I think he is spot on here.
It saddens me that Cameron has appointed somebody like Beecroft, whose self-serving hidden agenda completely misses the point. Its not about regulation – most of which is common sense and relatively easy for a business of our size to navigate.
Attracting and retaining good people is this biggest challenge which is harder for a small business than for a corporation. Making exceptions in employment law for Micro-businesses will make them look less appealing to potential employees. This will make us a less attractive proposition for talented people! When you find your needle in a haystack you want them to consider your business as a professional organisation, not as a fly-by-night outfit that might dismiss you on a whim.
Sadly, I think this will do the Tory brand enormous damage (even if Cameron kicks this into the long grass). The fact this is under consideration just beggars belief.
Let’s have some proper, professionally conducted research among real small businesses, not the unfounded views of an asset-stripping venture capitalist.
There really isn’t much I can say to follow that. Someone buy Mr Bennett a drink.