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It’s a matter of priorities.
On the left hand, we have the Labour Party, campaigning strongly for the so-called “living wage” – an earnings level for British workers that will provide enough for them to look after their families, heat their homes, feed their kids, care for their elderly relatives and plan for the future (as Ed Miliband was set to say at a speech today).
On the right hand, we have Conservative leader (and comedy Prime Minister) David Cameron, off on a junket to the Middle East in a bid to sell Typhoon fighter jets to Arab nations.
… Because that always works well for us, doesn’t it? (/sarcasm)
Conservatives have been selling weapons to foreign countries for decades. We know that 16 British firms were listed as having supplied arms to Iraq (the information is in a 12,000-page dossier the Iraqis kindly supplied to the UN in 2003). It has been alleged that one of the arms dealers involved in those sales was Mark Thatcher, son of the former Conservative Prime Minister. It’s a certainty that these companies were making their sales while the Conservatives were in power during the 1980s and 1990s, and probably benefited from Conservative government trade missions.
Perceptive readers will, at this point, assert that Labour governments have also sold to foreign powers, and this is true. I have been able to find evidence of sales to India and to Israel during Tony Blair’s controversial premiership.
It’s a very murky subject and nobody in British politics can say their hands are clean.
The best I can suggest is that Labour didn’t sell arms to anyone who was likely to use them on British citizens. The Conservatives were indiscriminate (and we know – or at least have good reason to believe – that arms sold to Iraq were indeed used against British soldiers).
Cameron himself has already earned adverse media coverage for selling arms to countries with questionable human rights records – in other words, those that might use those weapons on their own citizens. He has tried to talk these claims down –
– but it is telling that he has made damn sure there will be minimal media coverage of this trip. Downing Street has spent two years trying to restrict media access to the PM’s overseas visits, making him the only G7 leader who is not accompanied abroad by a full press corps. The preferred total is just one broadcaster (presumably, one who has been specially selected by Downing Street and who is, therefore “one of us”).
The deals Cameron hopes to make are said to be worth more than £6 billion to the UK. However, considering this government’s miserable record in tackling tax evasion and avoidance, one wonders how much of that will make it into the Treasury.
Contrast this secrecy with the full-on publicity campaign for the living wage, under way courtesy of Ed Miliband and the Labour Party, here in Blighty. The living wage is £7.45 per hour (outside London; £8.30 within the capital) – only a little more than £1 above the minimum wage, but it could make a big difference to workers across the country.
For every £1 spent in the private sector on getting workers up to the living wage, around 50 pence of that would come back to the government in savings on tax credits and benefits, and in higher tax revenue. In other words, it would help pay off the national deficit and debt.
“The living wage isn’t an idea that came from politicians,” says Mr Miliband in his speech today. “Or from academics in thinktanks.
“It came from working people themselves. People who recognised that they were giving their all for organisations that could afford to pay just a little bit more to give dignity to them, but who weren’t doing so. People who recognised that their firms might be more likely to succeed if they did.
“Our economy is not working for working people but just for a few at the top – a few taking ever-more of a share of the national cake, while other people struggle more and more to make ends meet.
Mr Cameron’s arms junket is living proof of the truth of those words.
Postscript: In his speech, Mr Miliband lists Labour councils that have introduced the living wage. I’m happy to add that Powys County Council, although independently-run, has pledged to research the possibility of introducing the living wage at the earliest opportunity.