Tuesday 19 August 2014

Self-employment and independence of mind

Sorry to have disappeared for so long.  I've been to France and, even more onerous and about a hundred times more stressful, I've been exchanging contracts on a new house.  Yes, as promised in a recent posting, I'm escaping the increasingly unhealthy smog of London.

Packing and moving takes place over the next 48 hours, then I shall be taking more than a few days putting up shelves.

How can I spare the time to do this?  How do I get the flexibility to look after my home when I've got a busy workload?  The answer is: I employ myself.

I am, in that respect, one of a growing number in the UK.  Another 750,000 of us are self-employed compared to before the 2008 crash, and the downs - but mainly the ups - of self-employment were set out today in a fascinating call-in programme on Radio 4, Call You & Yours.

There are definitely downsides to self-employment if you don't want to be.  It isn't clear how many people are added to the statistics because their previous employers just want to shed responsibility, to stop paying employers NIC.  This is a serious problem and it isn't clear to me why it is tolerated by the HMRC, especially if they are basically working for one contractor.

There are even downsides for those of us who became self-employed by choice - the fallow periods, the isolation, the uncertainty, the lack of clear management (I never was a very good manager and I don't manage myself very well either).

Though, one of the features of self-employment that is actually no different is the regular need to reinvent yourself and re-think the way you earn money.  You have to do that whoever employs you.

But if the drawbacks are not overwhelming, self-employment can be life-enhancing.  It is a wonderful thing to be able to work at the tasks you were born to do, and to organise your working life as you see fit.

Working for yourself is a way of life that needs to be encouraged in schools - but then, one of the drawbacks of UK education under Labour and Conservative is that it doesn't encourage thinking for yourself nearly enough.  The late great Anita Roddick used to define an entrepreneur as someone who sees the world differently, and the old ideologies and bureaucracies don't like people doing that.

Because of this thinking, I believe self-employment breeds an independence of mind that seems to me to underpin Liberalism.

Two decades ago, I stumbled across a piece of research which ranked councils in order of their self-employment.  Those were the days when you could count Lib Dem MPs on fingers and toes, but at least half the top districts or self-employment were still strong Lib Dem areas.

Was it a coincidence?  Because, if it wasn't, it could have taught us something important about the kind of people who might support the Lib Dem party too.

I took the research to a senior Lib Dem who I very much respect, but won't name.  He said: "Well, we have to be careful not to be Poujardist about it."

Poujard led the uprising of small shopkeepers in France in the 1950s which propelled Jean-Marie Le Pen into politics.  I don't believe for a moment that self-employment leads to intolerance, but that reply was revealing - because, even among Liberals, there can be a fear of too much independence of mind.

The question is - is there any link any more between Liberalism, sturdy independence of mind and self-employment?  Because I think we should find out.

1 comment:

Martin Tod said...

It's a freedom that some often overlook - the freedom not to have your own boss.

But - in contradiction to libertarian philosophy - I found it makes you intensely aware of the systems and interconnectedness that make a business (and a society) work...