For those of us who still lament the passing from our television screens of National Lottery psychic Mystic Meg, Theresa May’s super-extended tightrope walk over the issue of the public sector pay cap provides welcome nostalgia.
Teachers, nurses, doctors, paramedics and the rest. They know they’re not really going to get a pay rise, but what’s wrong with a little escapism of a Wednesday lunchtime? For more than a week, government ministers have oscillated between the many layered mysteries of the pay cap being “under active discussion” yet "remaining in place", of balancing "fairness to public sector workers with fairness to those who pay for them".
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mystic May even came dressed as the part, almost. The dark jacket spreading open from the waist. If only its deep green velvet collar had been risen a foot behind her bobbed haircut like a witch’s cape, a crystal ball on the despatch box, the look would have been complete.
Firefighters, she explained, had just awarded themselves a whopping 2 per cent pay increase, five numbers plus the bonus ball. Now, further pay review bodies are set to report in the coming weeks: “Teachers, prison officers, police officers, senior executives, could be lucky toooooo.”
They won’t be, of course. Not unless Philip Hammond decides that balancing the public books is suddenly no big deal. That as the Brexit negotiations enter their most meaningful phase, there is suddenly extra public cash to splash around. That seems unlikely.
For the entirety of the Prime Minister’s exchanges with Jeremy Corbyn, no other subject was raised.
The Labour leader remains a man renewed, and he had what might have been his most devastating PMQs attack line yet.
“The Prime Minister found £1bn to keep her own job,” he asked. “Why can’t she find the same amount of money to keep nurses and teachers in their job, who after all, serve more than us?”
Rhetorically fine and, even, almost mathematically sound. In recent years, when Jeremy Hunt has vetoed even a 1 per cent pay rise for nurses, he likes to make the point that to do so would cost £500m. So Theresa May’s £1.5bn and counting deal with the DUP, even on Mr Hunt’s maths, could cover a 3 per cent pay rise for nurses.
That’s not a good look. Theresa May had her comebacks, of course. Unfortunately they are as tired and as impotent as she is.
“Labour’s way means more taxes, fewer jobs, and everyone pays the price of Labour!” she thundered, much to the thrilled admiration of her new band of brayers. Stephen Kerr in particular, the new Conservative member for Stirling and former Area Leader in the Church of Latter Day Saints, appeared almost to be speaking in tongues.
She carried on: “Waiting to put up taxes, waiting to destroy jobs, waiting to bankrupt our country. We will never let it happen!”
These lines worked upon a time. But when you’re leading a party who, having stretched their own private neuroses on to the nation at large, and in so doing have taken the economy from the best performing in the G7 to the worst in just 12 months. Well, you’re living on borrowed time, aren’t you?
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