It’s Time to Tackle the ‘Hard-Working Families’ Rhetoric

By Green Party activist Matt Hawkins

Describing the Conservative vision for Britain in a keynote speech last January, chancellor George Osborne stated it was all about “securing a better economic future for hard-working families”. It’s a simple but effective message that the Conservative Party have honed over the last four years. It’s a message Osborne is pretty much nailed on to return to on Budget day this Wednesday. Who’s going to disagree with it? Only the Monster Raving Loonies would support a better economic future for “lazy families”.

Given that the Conservatives seem to have staked out such a popular ground, the question is: how should opposition parties respond? Labour’s approach has been to attack the Conservative’s ability to deliver on their promises. They’ve pointed to the numbers of people in in-work poverty, the tax cut Osborne introduced to top-earners, and the Coalition’s failure to clamp-down on rising energy prices as evidence that the Conservatives can talk-the-talk on helping hard-working families but only Labour can walk-the-walk.

The problem with this approach is that it only helps to promote the Conservative’s ideology. The hard-working families rhetoric is political territory the Tories have already monopolised – voters are hardly going to be inspired by a party that copies and pastes that rhetoric, only adding a “…but we can do it better” addendum at the end.

There is, however, a more fundamental problem with this approach. The tactic also fails to interrogate the basic underlying principles of what a Conservative vision of “hard-working families” means for Britain.

From the entirely representative sample of the people I share my train journey to work with every morning, I get the sense that the pressures of British working life are not contributing to a cheery existence. It seems my fellow passengers are not alone. A recent poll by the mental health charity Mind found that two-thirds of British workers experience the “Sunday Blues” anxiety triggered by the thought of going back to work on Monday. Many turn to alcohol or comfort-eating to try and soften the blow. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2013 survey, just 17% of UK workers feel “engaged” by the their job.

It’s hardly surprising when one considers what “hard-working life” in Britain looks like. We work the third longest hours in the whole of the European Union – only behind Greece and Austria. It’s hard to feel engaged by your job when you’re chained to it for 10 hours or more a day. The result is that “family-time” is becoming a thing of the past. One in five parents of children aged 6-10 believe they are so stretched by work that they only give their child full attention “once a week”. For a more balanced life we have to look enviously over at Scandinavian waters: Danes work the shortest hours in Europe and according to the UN’s World Happiness Report they are the happiest nation in the world.

Not only should we question what the Conservative vision of a hard-working society looks like in reality, we should also remember who is evangelising it and why. When it comes to work and family backgrounds the Coalition cabinet could not be more unrepresentative of the run-of-the-mill British family. Whilst five million people in the UK currently earn less than the Living Wage, the combined wealth of the UK’s 29 cabinet members is £70 million. Come on guys, check your privilege. With money in the bank, our political leaders are never going to feel the effects of a benefit cut here or a drop in public investment there. Getting us all on-side with the “hard-working families rhetoric” allows the Conservatives to palm off responsibility from the government to individuals and their families, stripping away the last vestiges of state support in the process. “Sorry, can’t afford your rent since we introduced the Bedroom Tax? You’re just not working hard enough”.

As an alternative to the “hard-working families” narrative we should instead be calling for the “humanisation of work” as described by the economist E.F. Schumacher. What this means in practice is a total change in priorities – away from encouraging work for work’s sake and over to restoring family life, leisure time, and ensuring that the reason we get up every day is not to clock-in at the grindstone for another ten hours but to feel happy, content and gratified in what we do. Shorter working hours, flexible work and a Living Wage are just some of the bolts that could help to transform the economy but what we must do first is challenge the assumptions that underline Tory rhetoric. Leisure-time, family-life and rewarding-work all need to become a part of our political lexicon. Otherwise, the Tory’s divisive and destructive economic outlook risks becoming a societal norm.

Original article by Matt Hawkins in the Huffington Post here

Angela Merkel Visit: Lessons From Germany for David Cameron

Angela Merkel

German chancellor Angela Merkel is being treated like political royalty, a consequence of her country’s economic power as well as prime minister David Cameron’s desperate need for friends in Europe. Few would argue about the position of Germany as the economic powerhouse of the European Union but what can Britain learn from the German economic model? Does Germany’s economy suggest that the idealisation of competition and flexibility, touted by chancellor George Osborne and his elite friends, is the route to success?

We have a lot to learn from the German model, particularly in terms of the way the government frames the two important sources of economic dynamism: energy and money.

Germany’s Energiewende or energy transition is one of the most dramatic and underreported developments taking place in Europe today. It has hugely ambitious targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, which are to fall by a minimum of 80% by 2050 with a staging-post of 55% reductions by 2030, as well as pledging to phase out nuclear energy by the end of 2022. The rejection of nuclear after the Fukushima accident was famously an example of Merkel’s ability to listen, learn and change her mind, which we might also welcome being shared with our own government.

Not only has Germany turned its back on Europe’s dirty fossil and nuclear past, it has also questioned ownership of energy and responded in a way that would be anathema to Britain’s Conservative politicians. The energy revolution is being driven by communities and by local politicians; it would be quite impossible without a muscular role being played by the state, the same state that in Britain is being devastated by austerity cuts. As a result, local communities and local governments across Germany are benefiting from the energy transition: the 928 inhabitants of the village of Grossbardorf, in Bavaria, have united to develop photovoltaic roof systems, solar power plants, a biogas plant with a combined heat and power (ChP) unit and a district heating network; Jühnde in Göttingen began its journey to becoming a ‘bio-energy village’ in 2001 and by 2004 70% of the population of the village were members of the co-operative and use locally generated bio-heat, relying on the methane produced by fermenting agricultural waste products.

These sorts of developments would be impossible without a wholly different approach to finance exemplified by the state-owned development bank – the KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau or Reconstruction Credit Institute). Established under the Marshall Plan and originally focused on the reconstruction of a war-torn economy, the KfW has been able to provide the finance to enable Germany’s development as political priorites have changed, through Reunification and now the Energiewende. The contrast with the situation in the UK is made clear through evidence given to the Environmental Audit Committee’s Inquiry into Green Finance, which will report shortly. It will demonstrate a tussle over power and profits that has held back the energy transition in Britain, where high-risk activities are always more attractive to private finance than investment in vital sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Continue reading



Scottish Greens are dismissing as “campaign bluster” the latest position from Tory Chancellor George Osborne on currency, but are also renewing calls for other options to be kept open by the Scottish Government.

It is understood the Chancellor will attempt to “rule out” the prospect of an independent Scotland sharing the pound following a Yes vote in September’s referendum. It has also been suggested that a Libdem Treasury minister and Labour’s shadow chancellor will echo these comments.

Scottish Greens believe sharing the pound may be the best starting point but that over time as Scotland took different economic choices it would need the option of using an independent currency. Greens have urged Scottish ministers to prepare for this scenario.
Patrick Harvie MSP, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said:

“This latest campaign bluster from Osborne is quite silly. The truth is that discussions over currency are for post-Yes negotiations, and nobody even knows who’ll be in Government at Westminster from 2015. Osborne’s position today is a shallow campaign threat, and one which I suspect will backfire.

“The currency that Scotland uses can only be negotiated after a Yes vote, and it will be in the interests of both Governments to agree a smooth and rational transition. But just as Osborne can’t know that a deal won’t be done, Alex Salmond can’t know that it will. It seems that Scotland must keep open the option of our own independent currency, in case we need it sooner rather than later.”


See more about Scottish Green Party Independence Referendum Policy here