Few would deny that Britain is more divided than at any time...
The truth about what Andrew Mitchell said to the policeman in Downing Street matters to us all, not just to those directly involved. Mitchell has admitted that he swore and apologised but denies that he called the policeman a ‘pleb’.
Allegations that a member of the public witnessed the fracas are disproved by CCTV evidence. Mr Mitchell subsequently met three members of the Police Federation in his constituency and they reported that he had failed to explain himself. A recording made of that meeting is said to disprove this. The deputy Chair of the IPCC concluded this week that the conduct of the police raised issues of honesty and integrity and the Crown Prosecution Service is now considering criminal charges against some of the officers involved. If police officers lied in this episode, what does this mean for public trust in those employed to uphold justice in our society?
The latest employment statistics offer further evidence of economic recovery. In the three months to August 155,000 more found jobs so that 29.87 million are now employed. 41,000 fewer claimed job seeker’s benefit but 7.7% are still unemployed, including 958,000 16-24 year olds, so there is no room for complacency. Whilst the Government are encouraged by these figures the Opposition is focussing on a ‘cost of living crisis’. Prices are rising faster than wages. Inflation is running at 2.7% whilst wages are growing at less than 1%. The TUC claims that public sector workers are on average £2000 a year worse off.
How best to soften the impact of these statistics has spawned an interesting debate both between the parties and within them. Ed Miliband promised to freeze energy prices only to find that this is unenforceable because the Government cannot control global wholesale energy prices. The Conservative alternative is to cut taxes and leaving taxpayers more disposable income. The Liberal Democrats want to achieve this by raising the personal tax allowance to £12,500 but Conservative radicals, such as Robert Halfon MP, say this does nothing to help the poorest five million people who do not earn that much. Halfon’s alternative is to raise the threshold for national insurance. The long run solution is job creation and the Chancellor has already cut the employer element of national insurance to encourage small firms to take on more employees. This has probably helped to produce the improved employment figures but any further tax reductions have to be paid for by additional cuts in public spending that could increase unemployment.
Labour has now joined the Coalition partners in taking a tough line on those who choose not to work and live on benefits but the people who matter, politically and morally, are those who can work, want to work, but cannot find a job that matches their skills. It is good to see the economy recovering but the benefits need to be shared by all. How that is to be achieved is a key issue between now and the 2015 election.