Graeme Archer

Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.

Oh hi. Now, I know this is unlikely to affect you directly, but…what I’d like to tell you about did affect some Londoners, directly, this week. And someone should at least bear witness to it. For whatever that’s worth.

At least part of being a Conservative is to intuit why the Tardis is possible. There’s a scene in the 1970s when Tom Baker explains bigger-on-the-insidedness to Louise Jameson. He holds up two boxes, one (call it A) noticeably bigger than the other (B). Which is bigger? he asks her. “That one,” she says, pointing at A.

Baker takes A and places it far away, on top of the console, while holding B as close to Jameson as before. “Which is bigger now?” If you can see why A remains bigger than B, but is simultanously, thanks to perspective, smaller than B, so that big A can fit within small B, then you’re a Doctor Who fan. And probably a Conservative.

The “B” can be the short term, creative destruction which hurts people – whether it’s because your kid’s the only native English speaker in her primary school class, or because the trade your father would have viewed as “for life” has been off-shored by a hedge fund. But we know, too, that these globalising policies, based on free trade and free movement, in the long run, are good. The goal of rising prosperity is the “A”.

Please don’t think I’m standing outside in order to accuse. I believe in globalisation and in the modern attempts which businesses find to stay profitable – the out-sourcing and the off-shoring (I’d be a hypocrite if I said otherwise, apart from anything else). The more free the trade, the more prosperous most of us become – and that “us” definitely includes people who are badly off right now.

I’m standing outside – metaphorically – because I’m wondering how we sell our Right-wing ideas, particularly to people whose outsider status is a matter of fact, not literary conceit.

Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this, my attempt to bear witness.

This week, Keith told me about some men he knows. They work as security guards for a MegaCorp, somewhere in London. Of course, while they work for MegaCorp, they’re not employed by MegaCorp. Their employer is an outfit – GuardCorp, say – set up to provide “security services” to whomsoever requires them.

Last week GuardCorp – whose payroll division itself, I would bet, is outsourced to yet another service-provider (call it WageCorp) – didn’t pay its staff.

“Er, I don’t have any pay,” says the worker to his line manager at MegaCorp.

“Oh, but you don’t work for us. Take it up with your actual employer, at GuardCorp.”

“Er, I don’t have any pay,” says the worker to his business-relationship manager at GuardCorp. He says this by telephone, because he rarely, if ever, meets his actual employer. Who might be a hedge fund in Monaco, for all the worker knows.

“Oh, yes, there’s some sort of problem at WageCorp, something about their systems. Call this helpline number.”

“All our operators are busy at this time. Your call is important to us: WageCorp is passionate about the delivery of payroll support to people just like you! This line isn’t monitored so don’t leave a message/This email account isn’t read so please don’t reply to it.”

OK: I am imagining the conversations, but not the event itself. Dozens of men doing their job were left without pay, for more than four days, over a weekend, because of an IT problem in a system probably two companies-distant from where they actually work. Maybe this specific example is a one-off. The impotent rage of the powerless in the face of a care-less system isn’t.

Most of those men are immigrants, working here without either the confidence that comes from being born into the middle-class, or the support networks most of us inherit, whatever our family’s station. They are, in that horrible usage of the word, aliens.

Capitalism is morally neutral and the best system discovered to increase human wealth. That’s A, in the distance. It’s big, and it’s good.

It doesn’t follow – and this is where Ed Miliband was exactly right – that all the people becoming rich through perfectly legal means, now, are themselves morally good. There are some capital-B bad people out there who design systems that disempower workers – maybe not many, but enough of them to see, if we choose to look. Close enough to swallow up and eclipse that far-off globalising goodness.

Try selling globalisation to an ordinary hardworking family whose employer leaves them without their week’s wages. We (Conservatives) will never convince a critical mass of our fellows that pro-free trade policies are ultimately compassionate until we take action – even just stand up and say “This is wrong” – against some of the predators, currently gorging themselves sick on the backs of those “hardworking families.” Even if – especially when – some of those families are aliens.

I asked Keith: “What did the company do?”

“They gave them a loan. Until it gets sorted.”

A loan, after four days without wages. It’s better than nothing, I suppose. For whatever that’s worth.

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