UPDATE: The government seems to have U-turned on its U-turn. More on this if the government finally figures out what its policy is…
The government may cave in on its 1% cap on public sector pay rises – affecting everyone from nurses to teachers and firefighters – after a Labour amendment to the Queen’s Speech gathered support.
The Treasury has told the BBC that the pay cap is “under review” and “open to discussion”, after rumours that some Tory MPs are planning to abstain on the amendment.
With such a narrow Tory majority in parliament, a few abstentions could mean that Labour’s plan passes. The government U-turn appears to be an attempt to stop that from happening.
The public sector pay cap is one of the key planks of Tory austerity. The ‘cap’ has really been a long-term pay cut, as it has meant below-inflation pay rises every year since 2010, eroding the value of workers’ pay packets.
Defeating the cap after seven years would be a big win for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn.
After Theresa May was able to suddenly find £1.5 billion to pay off 10 DUP MPs to prop up her government, the miserly cap looks increasingly indefensible.
May’s generosity to the Northern Ireland MPs has been widely contrasted with her telling a nurse in a pre-election Question Time debate that there is “no magic money tree” for pay rises.
Progress, the continuity-Blairite group within the Labour Party, are having a bad week. First their billionaire funder Lord Sainsbury checked out, leaving Progress begging for cash on Twitter.
Now broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason, speaking on a debate panel at Progress’ annual conference, has told Labour’s neoliberal wing to decide: “Do you want to be part of this party, or not?”
“Right now our leader is addressing a 200,000 strong crowd at Glastonbury who are singing his name,” Paul told the Blairite caucus. “And the reason they are doing it is because they believe, unlike some of the people on the platform, that we are totally serious when we say we’re going to tear down the free market economy and replace it with one of social justice.
“That’s what that manifesto said and that’s what I want us to do. Make no mistake, as long as Jeremy is leader, as long as people like me have a voice, this is what we will try to do.”
Paul pointed out that many Progress-supporting candidates had run a campaign along the lines of “Jeremy can’t win, I am a good local MP”, and the party HQ (where staff tend to lean right) had “underestimated the strength of the surge in our favour, and therefore even on the last night they were fighting a defensive campaign when they could have been fighting an offensive campaign”.
“I staked my reputation on the idea that we could win,” said Paul. “And I said the night before that we could certainly achieve a hung parliament.”
“The question for people in this room is: it is now a left wing Labour Party. It is a Labour Party led by a man villified in 14 pages of the Daily Mail, and the Sun, as a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, and we got 13 million votes. Do you want to be part of it, or not?”
Progress is the last hold out of Labour’s right wing. MP Wes Streeting – despite being a former president of the National Union of Students – used the opportunity to speak out against the Labour manifesto’s commitment to scrap tuition fees. (He claims “the money can be spent better”.)
Polly, an audience member, absurdly accused Paul Mason of ‘intimidating’ Progress members by tweeting that ‘moderates’ had been wrong about the election, repeating to him, “would you like to apologise?”
“For what?” replied Paul. “Your tweet,” she said. Paul laughed, “I’d like to retweet it. I’ll retweet it now in fact.”
To hisses from the crowd, Paul spelled out that if they do not like Labour’s manifesto, Progress could split off into a party of their own, along the lines of Emmanuel Macron’s successful new centrist party in France.
“There could be a British Macron,” he told them. “You could have a totally ‘sabotage Brexit, end Brexit, second referendum’ party. Run right it could do much better than the Liberal Democrats did.”
Fellow panel member Liz Kendall MP and many audience members were outraged at this suggestion, saying they are “Labour through and through” – despite often in their next sentence setting out more of their disagreements with the party’s 2017 manifesto.
Richard Angell, Progress’ director, said some people in the room were being made to feel unwelcome in the Labour Party. Paul replied, with a smile, “You are all welcome in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
“But if you want a centrist party, this is not going to be it for the next 10 years.
“If it’s important to you to have a pro-Remain party that is in favour of illegal war, in favour of privatisation, form your own party and get on with it!”
Jeremy Corbyn is popular. Young people like him. Millions voted for him. These are all things we knew already, from the election results, from polls, from simply having our eyes open.
But there were those who had been slow to catch on, still thinking the election result was all to do with Theresa May’s bad campaign, or that another Labour leader might have done better.
No more. After Glastonbury, only the terminally obtuse could continue to ignore the unprecedented mass support for Jeremy Corbyn.
The “oh Jeremy Corbyn!” chant is now everywhere. Jeremy received a hero’s welcome when he spoke from the main stage to hundreds of thousands of people today. It will only spread further from here.
First Corbyn and his supporters came from nowhere to shake up the Labour Party. Then they did the same to the general election. Now it’s growing, growing still further, beyond politics and far into popular culture.
Jeremy at Glastonbury is now part of history – and it is part that will be talked about, referred back to, for many decades to come as part of the story of how a transformed Labour Party changed society in 2017.
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