Se­nior Tories in re­volt against May over pub­lic sec­tor wages

Con­sen­sus grows that Down­ing Street must sig­nal change of di­rec­tion

The Guardian Weekly - - Uk news - Toby Helm and Michael Sav­age

Theresa May is fac­ing a cho­rus of Tory de­mands for a rad­i­cal over­haul of state fund­ing for pub­lic ser­vices as cab­i­net min­is­ters and se­nior Con­ser­va­tive MPs back higher pay for mil­lions of NHS work­ers, more cash for schools and a “na­tional de­bate” on stu­dent debt.

The prime min­is­ter’s wan­ing author­ity was high­lighted as Jeremy Hunt, the health sec­re­tary, and Jus­tine Green­ing, the ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary, who has de­manded £1bn in ex­tra schools fund­ing, lob­bied for an eas­ing of aus­ter­ity and se­nior Con­ser­va­tive MPs in­sisted pub­lic ser­vices would be in grow­ing peril with­out an ur­gent loos­en­ing of the purse strings.

Philip Ham­mond, the chan­cel­lor, has come un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to ease spend­ing con­straints in sev­eral ar­eas since the gen­eral elec­tion de­prived May of her ma­jor­ity.

On Mon­day Boris John­son, the for­eign sec­re­tary, waded into the es­ca­lat­ing cab­i­net row, throw­ing his weight be­hind calls for the 1% ceil­ing on wage in­creases to be lifted for pub­lic sec­tor work­ers, in­clud­ing nurses and teach­ers. John­son’s in­ter­ven­tion fol­lows a sim­i­lar call from Michael Gove, the en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary.

“The for­eign sec­re­tary sup­ports the idea of pub­lic sec­tor work­ers get­ting a bet­ter pay deal and be­lieves the find­ings of the pay re­view bod­ies should be re­spected,” a se­nior gov­ern­ment source said.

Sep­a­rately, Damian Green, the de facto deputy prime min­is­ter and a May loy­al­ist, hinted at a wider re­think when he said there might need to be a na­tional de­bate about the level of stu­dent fees, in or­der to ap­peal to younger vot­ers.

The level of in­ter­nal pres­sure for the aban­don­ment of aus­ter­ity puts Ham­mond un­der pres­sure to consider rais­ing taxes to fund any ex­tra pub­lic spend­ing. It came as the Nurs­ing and Mid­wifery Coun­cil, the of­fi­cial body that reg­u­lates nurses and mid­wives, re­vealed ev­i­dence of a grow­ing cri­sis in the re­cruit­ment of nurses.

Gov­ern­ment sources made it clear that Hunt was pre­pared to take on Ham­mond and call for the lift­ing of the 1% pay cap for nurses and other NHS work­ers, cit­ing as ev­i­dence a hard-hit­ting re­port pub­lished in March by the gov­ern­ment’s own NHS pay re­view body. In the re­port, the gov­ern­ment’s ad­vis­ers warned that the cap would “not be sus­tain­able for much longer” and said the costs of plugging gaps caused by staff short­ages could soon be­come greater than the sav­ings. It also high­lighted the ef­fects of Brexit, say­ing “changes in the UK’s re­la­tion­ship with the EU may re­duce the abil­ity to fill short­falls in staff num­bers from over­seas”.

A poll for the Ob­server by Opinium shows the ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­tent to which May has lost the trust of vot­ers since the height of her pop­u­lar­ity in April and, equally strik­ing, since the June gen­eral elec­tion. Over the same pe­riod, Jeremy Cor­byn, the Labour leader, who has called for an end to aus­ter­ity and the pub­lic sec­tor pay cap, has risen in pub­lic es­teem.

On 19 April, May’s net ap­proval was +21% (when the num­ber who dis­ap­prove is sub­tracted from those who ap­prove) while Cor­byn’s was -35%. Now May is on -20% and Cor­byn on +4%. Since the gen­eral elec­tion on 8 June, 61% of vot­ers say their opin­ion of May has be­come more neg­a­tive.

While the Con­ser­va­tives do not want to be seen to be re­spond­ing to Labour pres­sure, be­hind the scenes there is a grow­ing view that May and Ham­mond have to give a clear sig­nal that the gov­ern­ment will change di­rec­tion be­fore par­lia­ment breaks for the sum­mer on 20 July. MPs and min­is­ters then ex­pect a change of pol­icy to be con­firmed in Ham­mond’s au­tumn bud­get.

Many Tories say the party’s deal with the Demo­cratic Union­ist party, in which £1bn in spend­ing was se­cured for North­ern Ire­land in ex­change for the party’s sup­port for the Con­ser­va­tives in the Com­mons, has made the case for the pub­lic sec­tor pay cap im­pos­si­ble to de­fend.


Irked, and not afraid to say so … anti-aus­ter­ity marchers in Lon­don

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