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It's time for business to fight for the right to work!

By Paul Goodman
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Today's Mail on Sunday tells the story of Kirsty James, who has wanted to be a hairdresser since she was a child.  She now has a three-year apprenticeship at Toni and Guy, and thus a chance to realise her ambition.  What made her dream possible?  Was it "Youth Fight for Jobs and Education", whose spokesman appeared on Newsnight last week?  Or the "Right to Work campaign"?  Or the "Socialist Workers Party", which title suggests an interest in gainful employment?

Readers know the answer is: none of the above.  Most will also have guessed that it is completed by five further words: the Government's Work Employment Scheme.  Ms James got a placement under the scheme at Toni and Guy's Shropshire store which involved "assisting qualified hairdressers with duties, including cleaning".  The scheme is one of many for which Chris Grayling is responsible at the Department of Work and Pensions.

It is thus evil Tory monster Grayling, and not those noble socialist campaigners, who is responsible for helping a real-life worker (and many others).  Indeed, the main occupation of those campaigners seems to be trying to close shops: they shut a Tescos in Westminster earlier this week.  It may not have struck them that businesses provide the jobs for which they are apparently campaigning.

Or perhaps they are less interested in the grown-up business of providing employment than adolescent fantasies of perfect societies, which are currently working out so well in North Korea.  As Matthew D'Ancona points out today in the Sunday Telegraph, our friends on the far left have succeeded in targeting a scheme in which participation is voluntary.  They have also frightened the horses - or rather some of the companies involved in it, who have suspended their membership.

It should come as no surprise that firms doesn't always have the stomach for a fight.  They are, after all, in the business of doing business, not waging a public relations war in the columns of the Guardian (which, by the way, offers unpaid work experience placements: perhaps "Youth Fight for Jobs and Education" is poised to occupy its offices as I write).  Grayling, by contrast, has the stomach not so much for a fight as for an entire Thirty Years War, which he is currently waging.

The Employment Minister has displayed guts and balls where others would simply have headed for the hills.  D'Ancona is right to say that he deserves even higher office, and to add that after Grayling meets some of these firms on Wednesday they should annonce their re-entry to the scheme.  But there is a lesson here for the whole Government to learn - namely, that Ministers can't be left to scrap on their own against all comers.

Charles Moore described in Saturday's Telegraph how Michael Gove laboriously built a network of supporters for his free schools ideal - parents, teachers, academics, campaigners.  The Education Secretary grasped that he needed allies if his plans were to work for the next generation of young people.  Without a Campaign for Work that includes employers, workers who've benefitted from Government schemes, and academics, Ministers will be left on their own against the mob.

Which would be unpleasant for them.  But not half as unpleasant as life for the Kirsty James's of the future if the ladders that could help them climb are torched by those who claim to speak for them.


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