Gordon Brown has issued a fresh warning over the health of the union, saying that the United Kingdom “must urgently rediscover what holds it together” – or become a “failed state”. The former Prime Minister is urging the current one to reiterate plans for a commission on democracy that will address the “devolve and forget” attitude in certain institutions and lead to a “Forum of the Nations and Regions”. Alongside it, he also tells Boris Johnson to convene citizens’ assemblies. These recommendations come as enthusiasm for independence appears to grow in Wales, a majority in Northern Ireland want a border poll in the next five years, and the SNP are expected to improve their numbers in Holyrood in May. Even if Johnson starts work on this urgently, it already feels too late, and he doesn’t seem the right person to do it anyway.
Another important Gordon Brown story was slightly buried over the weekend: the Alliance for Full Employment has found that hundreds of thousands of jobless people are being missed by the official unemployment figures. According to the Labour Force Survey data that the Treasury relies on, the unemployment rate is 4.9% or 1.7 million people, but the claimant count and PAYE data suggest it is already over two million. The full details are in new report ‘The Ongoing Wave’. Brown has said this potentially “massive error” underestimates the scale of the problem and therefore also the responses required. The Chancellor’s March budget looms large: will Rishi Sunak take the steps needed on furlough, Universal Credit and more? Pressure may well lead to reluctant extensions, but they are likely to be short.
Labour will use its opposition day motions today to highlight upcoming council tax increases and government plans for employment rights. The party is warning that the local tax hikes would arrive just as furlough ends in April and would choke off confidence when spending is most needed to ensure recovery. (The Conservatives are hitting back with figures showing that charges are lower in Tory-run councils, so it’s a traditional row ahead of local elections.) The second vote will draw attention to potential changes to holiday pay, changes to rest breaks at work and an end to the 48-hour working week after the end of the Brexit transition period. Warnings that ministers are considering these moves intensify as the TUC reveals today that ‘fire and rehire’ tactics have become widespread during the pandemic. To put it mildly, the labour movement has a fight on its hands.
Keir Starmer has just announced that he is entering another period of coronavirus self-isolation, which is now his third. He came into contact with someone who tested positive but has no symptoms. We send both our best wishes. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.