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Tory support for public sector pay rise shows Labour now sets political debate

4 Jul , 2017  

By  -  
Mike is the co-editor of Consented.co.uk and host of Consented TV

After years of saying nothing about public sector workers and their pay, both Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, along with lesser known Conservative politicians and likeminded journalists, have come out in support of a hike in wages.

Of course, if Labour, reinvigorated and strengthened under the guidance of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, had not attempted to end the public sector pay freeze last week, Boris & Co would not have made such public declarations supporting the idea (they still voted against the initiative despite their proclamations after the fact).

It should also go without saying that if Labour had not done so well at the polls last month, thanks to the party’s well-received manifesto and the general incompetence of the Tories, Conservative politicians would not be falling over themselves to be seen backing a potential pay rise.

The reason behind this scramble is simple: for the first time since 2010, and arguably earlier, the Tories are no longer in control of the political narrative of the nation.

Much has been written and said about them losing their majority, their subsequent deal with the DUP and the unexpected popularity of Labour under Corbyn but little attention has been paid to the fact that less and less people support what the Tories have to say.

After years of falling wages, rising living costs and ever-increasing debts, all under the auspices of austerity, people in the UK are demanding an alternative to the economic policies set forth by David Cameron and George Osborne and maintained by Theresa May and Philip Hammond.

And whilst it may have taken him and his team a while to find their feet, and arguably they should have produced a document like their election manifesto much earlier, Corbyn and the Labour Party are now setting the terms of the political debate.

So despite the party’s efforts to end the public-sector wage freeze ending in defeat, it seems state workers will receive their first real increase in wages this decade in the near future (most likely next year). No small feat.

The Tories are of course only set to concede on this point because of the battering they took last month and their subsequent realisation that they risked being ousted from power if they did not co-opt some of Labour’s more popular policies. However, there is no doubting that May’s party is now reacting to a changing political climate rather than setting its own course.

It is too early to determine whether or not their deal with the DUP will hold but the danger of the Tories trying to rebrand themselves supporters of the public sector and starch opponents of austerity is real and should not be underestimated.

The fact that her party has managed to withstand the initial storm after the snap election shows that it is incredibly resilient, and commentators only have to look to Mariano Rajoy’s minority government in Spain to learn just how long a seemingly inept and corrupt party can remain in power, despite having little or no mandate.

There is also a real risk of the momentum gained by the Labour Party in recent weeks being lost as the realities of parliament set in.

Nevertheless, despite not winning the election, Labour is in its strongest position since leaving power a decade ago and has the chance, if the party is able to work with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and potential rebel Tory MPs, to block May’s attempts to govern as well as push its own policies through the commons.

The limitations of the Corbyn project and parliamentary politics aside, the fact that the Tories no longer have sole dominion over the political narrative of the nation should be noted and seen for what it is, a chance to stem the until now relentlessness tide of Tory policy.


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