Rights for shares: raise the white flag

Only a week after George Osborne announced it at the Tory Conference, and we finally have a public comment from a senior Liberal Democrat on it. It’s Vince Cable who rides out with an article for Liberal Democrat Voice and as you’d expect from the renowned champion of the left of the party and former Labour member, it’s a resounding defence of workers’ right against any encroachment by the bosses.

Only kidding. This time, Vince’s cavalry aren’t riding out to save the day but to put the boot in by announcing that the Osborne plan is absolutely fine by him. Despite the fact that it’s about asking employees to give up certain employment rights, this isn’t Beecroft by the back door because:

That proposal would have applied to all employee contracts – this will only apply to workers at firms who want it.

So your employment rights are fine if your employer doesn’t want you to give them up, but if your employer insist that you have to give them up in favour of a few shares before you get a job, you don’t have a choice in that matter.

But don’t worry, everything will be alright because “it is not something intended for most ordinary businesses around the country.” Note the phrase there is ‘not intended’ – no one’s prohibited from taking it up, but it’s not intended that they will. However, it’s often the case that governments will create tax regulations that are only intended to have limited applicability, and then discover that lots of people realise that it’s a loophole they can take full advantage of as well. (See some of the discussion here, for instance)

But the main point remains that there’s a fundamentally illiberal heart to this policy, where we accept the idea that rights can be traded away (though in partial contradiction of Franklin’s maxim, here liberty appears to be being traded for insecurity). It’s an issue we should be fighting over, one that should be relegated to the Tory manifesto for the next election, not something Liberal Democrats should be rolling over, accepting and justifying.