By Paul Goodman
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The Daily Telegraph splashes this morning with a Downing Street report recommending that it be made easier for firms to sack unproductive workers. Far be it from me to suspect that Number Ten has leaked its findings to cheer the party's right after Monday evening's challenging events. So let me turn from it to a different article in the same paper.
Under the headline "Time is running out for our hourglass economy", Elizabeth Truss, the MP for South-West Norfolk, writes this morning about the Asian challenge to Britain's economy – putting the Government crisis about the repatriation of EU powers and David Cameron's mishandling of his Parliamentary Party into proper perspective. She writes:
"Fifty years ago, Britain, Germany and the US easily dominated the global jobs market, since most countries did not have compulsory education to 16 or 18. But now that many economies have widespread schooling, it’s no longer enough to have merely attended; someone else somewhere else will have gone and gained specialist skills. China and India, for example, are turning out twice as many maths and science graduates as all of the EU countries put together."
Truss's headline is explained by her view of what's happened since the 1960s: technological advance has polarised jobs between the elite and the low skilled – "squeezing out the middle classes and creating an hourglass economy". She believes that some (though not all) of the elite's earnings are justified, that there's little future in unskilled work, and that –
"Underlying the West’s debt and banking crisis is a competitiveness crisis. Europeans have been looking at each other, ignoring the economic progress being made in the rest of the world. We have been enjoying cheap goods produced by people with higher skills who are paid less than us and as a result are saddled with debt that we’re now, ironically, in no position to repay. In a pincer movement, living costs are rising as real incomes have stagnated."
She argues that the only long-term solution is reform of our education system and working culture, praising "the important work carried out in welfare by Iain Duncan Smith and in education by Michael Gove". Truss is one of the five MP co-authors of After the Coalition, which was recently serialised in the same paper.
One of the others, Dominic Raab, writes regularly in The Times: Nicholas Boles, Jesse Norman, and Sajid Javid have been three other Parliamentary contributors. The new intake proved its independent-mindedness in the lobbies on Monday. Some of its members are also demonstrating a thoughtfulness about Britain's long-term challenges – and their suitability for promotion.