Back in June of this year 50,000 angry people stomped through central London and held a rally in Parliament Square, while nobody else paid them the slightest bit of attention.
When the People’s Assembly “Demand The Alternative” march against austerity failed to achieve top billing on the BBC and Sky evening news bulletins (or to make the cut at all), aggrieved protesters took to the internet with wild claims of an establishment conspiracy and sinister media cover-up.
This blog responded by observing that protest movements that deny basic economic realities, sulkily view their opponents as two-dimensional cartoon characters and choose Russell Brand as their figurehead don’t really deserve the attention or respect of the wider public, let alone hold a legitimate claim to speak for the rest of us.
Defeated, the activists retreated to plan their next move. And now they’re back for Round 2.
Tomorrow (Saturday 18th October), the Trades Union Congress have organised the “Britain Needs A Pay Rise” demonstration, to take place in central London with a concluding rally in Hyde Park.
What seems like a perfectly understandable and legitimate expression of frustration at stagnating or falling real pay for millions of workers is, however, revealed to be just a front: the tagline for the event reads “Let’s increase Britain’s pay packet, and see it shared more fairly”.
Yes, this isn’t really about finding ways to spur economic growth and make Britain more productive (and hence deserving of a pay raise). It’s about pressuring the government to do everything possible to sabotage the economy in the name of discredited socialist dogma, and then scurrying around ensuring that the wreckage is distributed more “fairly” after the explosion.
This blog has complete sympathy with the difficult and even desperate plight of millions of Britons whose real-term pay has stagnated or fallen since the Great Recession. This blog also believes that the free market, blindly defended by many on the right, does not currently work when it comes to properly assigning value to social or environmental good (positive externalities) in the same efficient way that it calculates financial value.
But this blogger and the TUC demonstrators part company when it comes to the solution to Britain’s ongoing social malaise. Mandatory minimum wage hikes will only cause unemployment, and failing to reform public services only serves to enshrine the corrosive idea that we are here to serve the people (really the state) rather than the other way around.
The campaign’s push for a crackdown on excessive executive pay is all well and good, but while kicking the rich people at the top might feel good, it will do nothing to actually help the people at the bottom.
And as this blog recently argued during the Labour Party conference:
Labour solutions such as the minimum wage, government-owned everything, punitive taxation, positive discrimination and hiring quotas for every conceivable minority are like a temporary bandage, a stop-gap solution. Once you take away the regulation, the situation – driven by human behaviour and prejudices – will inevitably return to its normal, often inequitable steady-state.
I went on to argue that what we really need are free market-oriented solutions that help the market to better evaluate and assign value in a more holistic way (acknowledging the fact that social good often helps to alleviate other costs, for example). Yes, such an effort would be tremendously complicated and would involve radical new policies to be embraced by one or other political party. But it can’t be any worse than our current status quo, where the two main parties occupy the narrow ideological centre but strut around as though they are polar opposites.
If you want to truly be radical, why not forget inching up the minimum wage to a derisory £8 per hour by 2020 (as Ed Miliband boasted in his conference speech) and instead consider the idea of universal minimum income instead?
And so, while I have every sympathy with the demonstrators who will take to the streets tomorrow (it will be interesting to see if they can meet or exceed their previous high water mark of 50,000 people) I cannot side with their policy prescriptions.
Nonetheless, I will watch, speak to and learn from them as best I can – and as I did in June, I’ll share my impressions here.
Semi-Partisan Sam will be covering the “Britain Needs A Pay Rise” demonstration live on Saturday 18th Octber, live-tweeting from the event under the hashtag #18oct, and hopefully interviewing some of the main speakers at the concluding rally in Hyde Park. Stay tuned to @SamHooper on Twitter for real-time updates.