Today’s seen George Osborne give his speech to the Conservative Party Conference. As you might expect, there are many things in it that concern me, but I want to highlight two of them.

First we have the heavily trailed announcement that he wants to cut another £10bn off welfare costs by introducing more cuts and restrictions on who can claim various benefits. This, of course, is before we’ve even seen the impact the first wave of cuts in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit will have, but then when did sense ever apply to an Osborne proposal?

This proposal has obviously caused some consternation, but there has been a firm line from the Liberal Democrats against this proposal. Sure, it started with ‘party sources’ saying it was bad, but now I’ve seen quotes directly attributed to Nick Clegg saying that nothing of the sort has been agreed, and Tim Farron making a clear statement of the same point.

However, there’s been another Osborne proposal that hasn’t been shot down and I’m actually worried that this has already been agreed to by the leadership without members even being consulted. It’s the ‘rights for shares’ proposal in which you would surrender various rights (unfair dismissal, redundancy payments etc) in exchange for being given shares in the company you work for. So, if the company goes belly-up you’re left with no redundancy and a bunch of worthless shares. Or if you’re unfairly dismissed, you can’t get compensation, but you can try and find someone interested in buying shares that will give them no control over a privately traded company. You won’t get a choice in this, either – employers will be free to offer contracts based on this with no alternative, so forget the idea that your employment rights in any way belong to you and that you have a choice whether to exercise them.

Some have attempted to claim that it’s a John Lewis-style model of employee ownership, ignoring the fact that staff at John Lewis keep their rights while being the sole owners of the company. This is much more Fifty Shades Of Grey – you might have a contract, but you’re still getting screwed.

It’s illiberal nonsense, and the sort of thing the Liberal Democrats should be shooting down before it’s even left the auditorium, but I’m worried that we’re allowing it to happen. As well as the announcement at the Tory Conference, it’s on the Treasury website, alongside the logo for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (where Vince Cable is Secretary of State). That, and the mention at the bottom of the press release that the Government will be consulting on this, makes me fear that this is already well on its way to the statute book.

Have the party leadership allowed this to happen? And will they let us know, or have they traded our rights away for a few magic beans?

, ,

My, is it really two years since the last set of internal elections in the Liberal Democrats? Obviously yes, because the Lib Dem Twitterverse and blogosphere is at something-that-might-be-a-fever-or-might-be-the-result-of-sitting-too-close-to-the-radiator-pitch about it, but this time we may get more discussion of them because the rules have finally been relaxed to allow it.

Given that the deadline has passed, it’s probably too late to point candidates towards my suggestions for what to say and not say in their manifestos from last time, but I would say that they’re important things to remember when campaigning in these elections. They are important, and the committees will have some important decisions to make about the future direction of the party as we approach the next election.

With that in mind, I’d like to point people towards Jennie’s plan to gather together questions for FPC and FCC candidates – if you’re not standing, it’s your chance to get a question to a lot of candidates, and if you are standing then when she’s gathered together her list of questions, answering them is a way to get your views seen by a lot of people. Hopefully, it’ll mean we can get a proper debate going, and give me a chance to really think over who gets my 63rd preference for Policy Committee this time.

, , ,