Scrap the Cap or More Austerity?
While many Tory MPs have called for the 1% cap on public-sector pay rises to end, the government continues to persist on its position that no changes should be made.
On Wednesday, the limit on public sector salary rises was under review after Labour proposed an amendment to the Queen’s Speech to scrap the 1% cap but was eventually defeated in Parliament. The DUP and Conservatives opposed the amendment which also referred to cancelling cuts to the emergency services and the police.
Chancellor Philip Hammond is under increasing pressure to raise salaries more than 1% for nurses, teachers and other public-sector workers in a country where inflation has hit 2.9% and the Pound remains weak after the Brexit vote. With the UK inflation rising to a four-year high in May, and the pound falling sharply after the UK referendum, household budgets are increasingly feeling the pressure. As the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said back in June, the new government faces more challenges as it needs to respond to rising inflation and the ways it affects rising living costs. There is a general consensus that working people are struggling and that “The new government must stop the real wage slide. Ministers must focus on delivering better-paid jobs all around the UK.”
But while Conservatives opposed the amendment, now many of them are expressing their concerns. Labour and the Lib Dems accused Johnson and other Tories for changing their mind in such a short time. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron called Tory penitents “utterly shameless” because they voted against the amendment to the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday to call for an end to the public sector pay cap. Farron tweeted: “If only there had been a vote on this. Oh there was & the Tories voted against. Utterly shameless.”
On Wednesday, Corbyn said that MPs failed to “put their money where their mouth is” and Farron was angry at the DUP MPs who were “cheering” for opposing the amendment.
But now, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove are the latest to come forward against the government, asking for the 1% cap on wage rises to be lifted for all government workers such as doctors, nurses, teachers, dentists and the military. The cap affects 5.1m workers.
Workers are tired of austerity policies and Johnson, among many other backbenchers such as South Cambridgeshire’s MP, Heidi Allen, the former GP Sarah Wollaston and the MP for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer, are now calling for a change in the public services and wages.
According to a government source, "The Foreign Secretary supports the idea of public sector workers getting a better pay deal and believes the pay review recommendations are right. He also strongly believes the rises can be done in a responsible way and without causing fiscal pressures."
Talking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Gove urged the government to listen to pay review bodies: "These pay review bodies have been set up in order to ensure that we can have authoritative advice on what's required, in order to ensure that the public services on which we rely are effectively staffed and the people within them are effectively supported."
Pay rises for the five million workers are arranged by independent review bodies and since 2013 they have been capped at 1%. The Tories have promised to retain the cap until 2020. After Theresa May failed to get a mandate in the general election, many Conservative MPs are reconsidering their views. Many Conservatives are looking around for a better PM with many saying that Boris Johnson is eyeing the throne. So, the change in opinion should be framed within this political landscape where Tories are rebelling against Theresa May, who is increasingly finding it difficult to control her party.
Lord Lamont: Austerity is not a choice but unavoidable
Johnson and Gove were criticised by Lord Lamont, the Tory former chancellor, and influential member of the Conservative party, who accused them of “ganging up” on Chancellor Philip Hammond. Hammond has warned Tory MPs that unwanted tax rises will have to pay for the government’s generosity. Lord Lamont told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it wasn’t right for cabinet ministers “to gang up on the Chancellor in this way” and that “just to say because a lot of voters in the election objected to what is called austerity we must abandon it.”
Lamont disagreed with Jonson and Gove and dismissed the general population’s feeling of disaffection with austerity: “What concerns me is that there seems to be growing in the Conservative Party and among ministers a feeling that because the electorate dislike austerity that this is the message that has come back and therefore it ought to be discarded.” He stressed that austerity wasn’t a choice but just the way things are and ought to be: “People are talking about austerity as though it was an issue of too many repeats on television or they had got tired of watching Poldark and wanted a better programme. This is not a choice. It is unavoidable that we have restraint on public spending.”
Boris Johnson undermining the government
In an interview on the World at One, Stephen Crabb, the Conservative former work and pensions secretary said that MPs like Boris Johnson should resign if they want to be vociferous about lifting the public sector pay cap and speaking out against the government. He said: “I don’t think it’s a great sight seeing different cabinet members giving slightly different messages to the media. My own personal preference is that people should be direct and upfront. If they want to take a position that is different from that of the official government line, then they should not be in the cabinet ... Until we get to the point when specific decisions are being made [on public sector pay], I do think that if you are in the cabinet, if you are taking the government’s shilling, then you need to stick rigidly to the government line.”
Crabb said that the Conservatives recognised the situation and the need to show how their party is with the side of the people. He highlighted that the issue wasn’t just of pay: “it is about being seen to be positive about the public sector, backing those public-sector workers and managers who are making a difference every day of the week and making our public sector sustainable for the long term.” While he didn’t agree with lifting the 1% pay cap, he said that for some of them, especially nurses, it should be lifted.