So the magic money tree that was found to fund the Conservatives’ deal with the DUP has apparently disappeared again – just as NHS workers came along to request that their wages don’t fall, in real terms, for the seventh year in a row.
The Labour Party had attempted to force the Government to lift the pay cap on public sector wages by tabling an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, but Theresa May’s Tories joined with the DUP to vote it down by 323 votes to 309 – a majority of 14. As the result was announced, many Tory MPs were heard cheering.
Five million public sector workers have their pay level set by independent pay review bodies, but have effectively had their annual wage increase capped at 1% since 2012, before which there was a two-year freeze on pay for all but the very lowest-paid workers. For virtually all of this period, inflation has run above 1%, meaning that, in real terms, their wages have been reduced.
However, the chances of the amendment ever being passed were slim. The last time an amendment was successful was back in 1924 when Labour tabled a motion of no confidence in Stanley Baldwin's Conservative government – Baldwin then resigned as Prime Minister to be replaced by Ramsay MacDonald, the first ever Labour PM. Up until May 2016, the Parliament website stated that, by convention, "If the Queen’s Speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign."
Now, it merely states: “Although it could be seen as a test of a new government’s strength, amendments to motion on the Loyal Address do not necessitate a resignation.”
So, being charitable, Tory MPs were merely cheering the fact that the Queen’s Speech had passed – thus meaning that Theresa May would stay as Prime Minister.
However, given the nature of the amendment, with the great work of public sector employees, including policemen, nurses, doctors and firefighters, all being very much in the news with the recent terrorist attacks and the fire at Grenfell Tower, it could certainly be considered crass and insensitive to cheer the fact that this specific amendment had failed to pass.
Before the vote, both the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, and the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, had talked of looking again at the pay cap – suggesting that it might eventually be lifted, with a ‘Conservative source’ telling the Guardian that the policy would be reviewed at the next budget.
They said, “We understand that people are weary after years of hard work to rebuild the economy. We’ve heard the message at the election. There are recommendations from independent public sector pay review bodies and decisions will be taken [at the budget].”
However, in yet another apparent Tory U-turn, Theresa May’s spokesman repeatedly insisted that the policy had not changed – with speculation that chancellor Philip Hammond had resisted the move, in order to give him greater freedom in the budget.