Labour and Tories woo workers, leaving the Lib Dems to buddy up to business

The hot air of the political conference season has gone, to be replaced by the cold winds of autumn. But what did the respective party get-togethers have to say on the future of the UK workplace?

Perhaps the biggest lesson business could learn from Labour in Manchester was how not to conduct succession planning, with the Gordon Brown/pretty-much-anyone-on-the-front-bench leadership race that dominated proceedings.

Education and skills secretary, Alan Johnson, said all GCSE coursework would be removed from maths, and that other subjects would be supervised. He also promised an apprenticeship to every “young qualified person” who wants one. Though it seems the minister has not heard about age discrimination.

Pensions secretary, John Hutton, reminded everyone of the forthcoming pensions reforms. Meanwhile, industry secretary, Alistair Darling, listed all the new rights workers have gained under a Labour government, and promised more to come.

Employers will welcome the focus on skills, but the debate rages on about the 600 or so pieces of business legislation enacted since Labour came to power.

For the Tories, the word ‘family’ – at 23 mentions – was pipped at the post by ‘NHS’, in David Cameron’s keynote speech in Bournemouth.

He also called for greater understanding of workers’ need to “disappear at a moment’s notice” to look after their children. Employers had better start limbering up now if they don’t want to pull a muscle implementing this ultra-flexible vision of the future.

Shadow work and pensions secretary, Philip Hammond, said a Conservative future would mean “work tailored to the circumstances of the would-be workers, not workers squeezed into jobs that they don’t fit”.

In his speech to the party’s Brighton conference, Lib Dem leader, Menzies Campbell, outlined the issues “that matter to people – public services, the environment, crime, taxation – a fairer and more peaceful world”. No mention of employment matters at all.

Lib Dem education spokeswoman, Sarah Teather, called for A-levels to be scrapped in favour of a European-style system of diplomas recommended in the Tomlinson report.

It was left to the party’s trade and industry spokesman, Edward Davey, to tackle deregulation, promising to repeal unnecessary legislation and ensure future laws are properly assessed and fit for purpose.

It all sounds good, but will Ming ever be given the chance to be merciless on business red tape?

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