Look Left: Europe, the jobs market and tough justice for police killers

James Bloodworth looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.

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• Not for the first time this parliament David Cameron has been besieged by Eurosceptic MPs demanding he call an in or out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Ever since Ukip’s strong showing in the recent local council elections, Tory backbenchers have been putting pressure on David Cameron to move the coalition to the right – and with some success.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than over Europe, where Tory MPs have now worked themselves into a frenzy which could very well drag the Tory leadership down with it – but which could also lead to Britain sleepwalking out of the EU in the not-so-distant future.

The possible Conservative amendment to the Queen’s Speech condemning it for failing to include a bill advocating a referendum on EU membership (which ultimately failed) was branded a “venal act of self indulgence” by former Tory MP Jerry Hayes this week. Jenny Jones also took apart Boris Johnson’s vision of Britain’s “paired down” relationship with Europe – code for an establishment assault on workers’ rights.

• Jobs figures released on Wednesday revealed that unemployment rose by 15,000 between January 2013 and March 2013 to 2.52 million – the third consecutive rise – with the unemployment rate now at 7.8 per cent.

As work from the Resolution Foundation has demonstrated, the UK faces a large ‘jobs gap’ to return to pre-crisis employment levels.

This week James Bloodworth reported on the figures as they were released and Duncan Weldon of the TUC looked at the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’ contained in the figures.

• The home secretary Theresa May announced on Wednesday that under the Conservatives those convicted of killing a police officer would have their sentences raised to the ‘whole life’ category usually reserved for the very worst types of murderer.

It may be true, as the home secretary says, that “to attack and kill a police officer is to attack the fundamental basis of our society”, but questions were raised as to the scale of the problem.

There have been seven direct killings of police officers since 2005. Seven tragedies, no doubt. But this compares with 376 people who have died either in police custody or following other contact with the police. What is the government doing to address this?

Progressive of the Week:

Right-wing think tank Bow Group admitted this week that the privatisation of the Royal Mail could see the price of a stamp increase and Post Offices in rural areas close. 

In a letter to Conservative MPs, group chairman Ben Harris-Quinney said privatisation could endanger “the financial stability of Post Offices” in rural areas by separating Royal Mail further from the Post Office network.

However every cloud has a silver lining, as they say: “The privatisation of Royal Mail is likely to swiftly form a poisonous legacy for the government now, and a poisonous legacy for the Conservative Party going forward,” the letter added.

Regressive of the week:

Boris Johnson blamed “sloth” and “a culture of easy gratification” amongst workers for Britain’s economic woes in his column for the Daily Telegraph this week.

The accusation was a familiar one. A similar thesis was put about by Tory MPs last year. British workers were “among the worst idlers in the world”, a group of five Conservative MPs claimed.

The attempt by Boris to blame “sloth” for Britain falling behind Germany, however, while gratifying to a certain sort of person, was wildly inaccurate, as we showed here.

Evidence of the Week:

This week the OECD published the ‘tax wedge’ (the difference between before-tax and after-tax earnings) data taken from employment earnings for all 34 OECD countries. The UK came in at 32.3 per cent, well down the list.

What the data shows is that there’s no case for saying that Britain is overtaxed, and certainly not at the higher rates.

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