Cameron wrong to credit Boris for London living wage

David Cameron's assertion the living wage “is actually a Conservative policy” is incredulous, as is crediting it to the London mayor.

Our guest writer is Gina Byrne of Compass

David Cameron, in an article for today’s Guardian, claims the London living wage idea is the work of Boris Johnson. It isn’t. His assertion the living wage “is actually a Conservative policy” is incredulous, as is crediting it to the London mayor.

It was unions, grass-roots activists and community groups such as London Citizens who began their campaign for fair and sustainable pay back in 2001, and Mr Johnson’s predecessor Ken Livingstone who first implemented the radical policy. It has been a brilliant success, bringing much-needed relief to hard-up working families.

Mr Cameron’s attempt to portray this achievement as one of Mr Johnson’s is infuriating for progressives who struggled for years against Tory inaction on the problems faced by low wage workers. In reality, the mayor’s “support” for the living wage is a complete inability to reverse a policy which has been both popular and highly effective.

The Tory leader also wrote about pay inequalities in the public sector, promising to consider “pay multiples” for all people employed by the government in an attempt to curb high pay. To some extent, his argument does have a hint of sense; again and again Compass, along with leading members of the centre-left, has called for government action to curb excessive pay at the top of the scale. Any foray into this area would definitely be welcomed.

However, by attacking the public sector and neglecting the true source of income disparity, Mr Cameron’s argument falls flat. Although excessive salaries are an issue across the country, the problem, according to the Public Administration Select Committee’s 2010 report, originated with the massive increases in pay of private-sector CEOs and has been mirrored – to a smaller extent – in the remuneration of public workers.

The real elephant in the room for the Conservative Party leader is high pay in the private sector. A minimum wage employee working a 40 hour week would need to work for 226 years to earn what a FTSE 100 CEO does in just one; these managers are the same ones backing his National Insurance stance.

If Mr Cameron were truly committed to ending income inequality in Britain, he would not simply use the public sector as a scapegoat, but focus on the real source of the problem, beginning with his supporters at Sainbury’s, Marks and Spencer, Harvey Nichols and in the financial sector. Advocating a High Pay Commission for both public and private sector wages would be the next step.

Yet he will not. Both of Mr Cameron’s claims – about the Conservative origins of the living wage and his exclusive attack on public sector pay – are greatly misguided, a desperate attempt to win votes whilst keeping his big business allies firmly on his side.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.