OPINION - So, you think you can negotiate a pay rise?

·3-min read
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

I had two stray thoughts this afternoon which I hope will hang together for today’s edition. The first is on inflation, naturally. The second on the state of our politics.

For those keeping count, that’s now rail workers, parking wardens, teachers and airline staff either threatening to or going on strike. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but it seems as if everyone has this crazy idea that their pay should keep pace with inflation, and are prepared to cause a little disruption to get it.

At our editorial conference this morning, my colleague Melanie McDonagh made an interesting point that I thought deserved further exploration. She remarked that our ability to negotiate pay increases is highly uneven.

For example, those in unionised sectors with the capacity to bring the nation to a halt (say, rail workers) are better placed to do so than, to take an occupation at random, newsletter writers.

Similarly, people who own a home (particularly if they’ve paid off their mortgage) are more able to withstand soaring bills than renters, given that house prices continue their relentless rise.

Life being unfair is hardly a new concept to any of us. And when it comes to the economy, we do tend to think of a phenomenon such as unemployment as having highly uneven impacts. There is indeed a large and often arbitrary difference between barely keeping your job in a downturn and losing it.

Moreover, thanks to the campaigning of Jack Monroe, we’re a little more cognisant of differential inflation rates for the less well off, who spend a greater proportion of their income on food and fuel. But the reality is that, whether 2% or 9% or 20%, the impact of inflation is highly uneven, depending on your ability to negotiate.

The other point I wanted to briefly touch on was Mick Lynch himself. The RMT general secretary has received rave reviews from some quarters for his media performances. It helps that there is a reasonable amount of public support for the concept of wage rises, in spite of the inevitable disruption.

My observation is that Lynch does not simply benefit from a dash of charisma and an element of public sympathy. It is that, even if you disagree with the strikes or his rhetoric, he does at least know what he’s talking about (see here on Politics Live).

Long-time readers will know I’m a big fan of a core script with lines to take, so that MPs can sound vaguely aware of the issues. But genuine expertise remains priceless. British politics – and I include the civil service in this – loves a generalist. People who can wing it at the despatch box as they did in the university seminar.

We reshuffle the cabinet after a bad set of local elections, so one moment you’re a transport minister and the next you’re decommissioning nuclear power plants or discovering that unionists in Northern Ireland generally don’t vote for nationalist parties and vice-versa.

I’m not (I don’t think) calling for that weird Italian form of government where elected leaders are replaced by academics or central bankers called Mario every few years. But it is striking to watch someone who has grappled with the subject for years if not decades take on an opponent who has swallowed a briefing on the way to the TV studios.

In the comment pages, Sarfraz Manzoor says that while he welcomes Windrush Day, he longs for the day when the epic history and heroic contribution of Asians to Britain is also recognised and celebrated. While Ben Goldsmith raises three cheers for the beavers breathing life back into our landscapes.

And finally, Graham Norton stars in this week’s My London. It has a lot to do with Waitrose.

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