The government has managed to upset its own apple cart while trying to walk in a straight line. The indefatigable Paul Waugh inquired about rumours that the government was considering cutting or freezing the minimum wage. The spokesman replied:
‘It’s something we are looking at. We need to make sure that it’s working.’
This caused something of a stir. Then there was a clarification, which Waugh reported as:
‘No.10 stresses: It’s for Low Pay Commission to report back to ministers before decisions taken.’
The clarification did not dispel my confusion. Last week, business minister Matt Hancock said that Conservatives should ‘strengthen’ the minimum wage.
The consensus is that the minimum wage is safe and that the purpose of the review is to see how the policy might work better. But it is odd that Number 10 and departmental ministers speak different languages. It’s almost as if one did not listen to the other.
UPDATE: Labour figures are now saying that cuts and freezes to the minimum wage are incompatible with the aim of ‘making work pay’. This goes to show how costly these little verbal slips are to the government; they allow others to make mischief and confuse the public. Message discipline is vital when the government is trying to sell controversial policies.