We have just moved house. Packed everything we own into boxes, labelled them vaguely – “stuff for upstairs” and “maybe the shed” or, in one case, “can’t remember what I put in this one” – waited for the cat to go out and changed houses.
OK, I’m lying about the cat. He is very happy because there is a whole array of birds in our new garden, which he likes very much even though they seem to be taking the mickey out of him by using the power of flight.
We visited the house we have bought twice before making an offer. Frankly my wife has spent more time buying shoes so by the time moving day arrived we were saying things like “I hope we like it” and “Did it have a kitchen?” But despite the inevitable surprises – a carpet of 1970s green with a hint of orange that is welded to the floor and water pipes that send out a long high-pitched 40-second hum whenever anyone has successfully used the toilet – we are happy. We don’t know where anything is and don’t have a cooker but it’s all quite funny and I think that is important don’t you?
Fortunately we haven’t moved very far. Which, given pre-Budget rumours about the next wave of attacks on public service workers, is just as well. It seems the government wants to get rid of national pay rates for “some” public servants. It is telling perhaps that, in the first instance, this erosion of pay and conditions targets some civil servants, according to the BBC. People, perhaps, who don’t really benefit from public sympathy – workers from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for example. While they are at it, they may want to throw in traffic wardens. After all nobody is going to get too worked up about the working conditions of traffic wardens are they?
It is plainly wrong to get rid of national pay rates and nowhere is that clearer than in health and education. It gives rise to the idea that the healthcare provision for an older person in Bury or the education of a child in Middlesbrough is of less value than that of someone in Oxford or Hampstead. And we know that that way lies something ugly and Victorian.
The very idea that pay rates of public servants should be set according to the going rate of a particular region’s private sector means the reference point for work that underpins the wellbeing of the public – and ultimately enables society to function – is established by those parts of the private sector that are creating jobs. Or“Tesco” as we like to call it.
The Treasury claims that driving down pay in the public sector would make the private sector more competitive. So would a less rapacious demand for profit by the excessively rich but that argument appears to be too unfashionable to countenance.
Politically it is very predictable. We know the Conservative party has long resented the NHS, what with its blatantly unprofitable focus on human need. But – and forgive me if this is too blatantly political – if you are the Liberal Democrats how do you sleep at night? In government the party is purportedly a conscience in the face of rampant profiteering but, in fact, it’s silent, impotent and without guile.
I understand clarity of purpose is not always easy but losing clarity around principles shouldn’t be as easy as the Lib Dems make it look, should it? Let’s face it, there is no political restraint being placed on this assault on public service workers. You can call it a coalition if you like but it is a Conservative government – the Lib Dems seem to just work the doors and lay out the biscuits.
“The Lib Dems must show they do more than lay out the biscuits”