April 2: Labour’s pains over economy

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ED MILIBAND’S plan to outlaw exploitative zero-hours contracts, a potential crowd-pleaser ahead of tonight’s TV debate featuring the seven main party leaders, speaks volumes about Labour’s approach to the economy if it is returned to power.

If Mr Miliband is to be believed, a large percentage of the workforce are being held to ransom by unscrupulous employers using this contractual device as a means of exploiting the staff.

The reality, however, is very different – around 700,000 workers are on such contracts. And, while Labour does pride itself on standing up for fairness and should look to take draconian action against exploitative firms, the most effective way to champion low-paid staff is by presiding over a growing economy which creates a new generation of private sector jobs.

This will not happen if Mr Miliband’s team pursue an interventionist approach which stifles growth. It will only occur if the next government presides over the return to prosperity envisaged by Chancellor George Osborne, and whose own campaign visit to Pudsey came on the back of a larger-than-expected rise in GDP and consumer confidence.

This was backed up by 100 business leaders, including former backers of Labour, writing an open letter in which they warned that the election of Mr Miliband “will threaten jobs and deter investment”. In dismissing these entrepreneurs as Tory donors, Labour missed two points. First, it was the late John Smith, followed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who courted businesses in this way because of the credibility provided by such endorsements. Second, these are enterprises that need to flourish if the economy is to become stronger for all, a point David Cameron needs to reiterate tonight. At last, the economic indicators are pointing in favour of the Tories.

Tackling respect: No place for social media abuse

IT is a sad indictment of these times that so many school pupils think it is clever to use social media platforms, like Twitter, to post vile abuse – often of a sexist, racist or homophobic nature – about their teachers. It is simply unacceptable that totally unfounded allegations can remain in the public domain and taint the reputation of the victim.

In this instance, the NASUWT union is perfectly within its means to challenge the next Government to investigate the issue and come up with a new strategy to lessen the abuse of school staff, whether it be on online or in the classroom where the risk of physical assault is an all-too-common occurrence. The education profession is paying a heavy price for the diminution of discipline – there was a time when respect for teachers was sacrosanct and young people spoke with a degree of civility at all times.

Yet, while it is up to the Department for Education and Skills to determine national parameters for all schools to follow, it is also paramount that parents are held to account for any online postings made by their children that can be construed to be offensive and disrespectful.

Given that five per cent of culprits are said to involve youngsters still at primary school, these findings do beg the question about the failure of parents to monitor how their offspring when it comes to usage of mobile devices and social media.

Unless there is early intervention, and the offenders made aware of the hurt and distress caused by their remarks, there is the depressing likelihood of the youngsters concerned being disrespectful of society, and rule of law, as they grow older.

Maundy tradition: leadership lessons in humility

ON the day of a seven-way election been the UK’s party leader which has the potential to exemplify the worst of politics, the Bishop of Sheffield’s eloquent words about humility ahead of the traditional Maundy Thursday service could not be more profound – or pertinent.

As the Queen prepares to distribute Maundy money to recipients nominated for their service to others, the Right Reverend Steven Croft writes on the opposite page about the importance of leadership and respect for those people who are humble enough “to admit their mistakes and work as a team”.

They’re lessons that the country’s political leaders should heed, especially given the likelihood that the May 7 poll will end with no clear winner. In a week characterised by the trading of insults between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, tonight’s debate is a chance for the participants to show that they possess those special qualities, including humility, which remain the benchmark of leadership.