Last week’s vote on the Queen’s Speech in the Commons was the first meaningful test of the new Government and, despite the predictions of doom and gloom by the mainstream media, I feel everything went smoothly and according to Theresa May’s plan.
I suppose the most interesting parts of the vote were the proposed amendments, in particular the proposal to remove the 1% pay rise cap for public sector workers, and the pro-Remain amendment put forward by Chuka Umunna.
The uncapping of the public sector pay gained no support amongst Conservative MPs. This gave rise to the old re-heated allegation that Tories don’t care about public services, that we exist purely to grind people down, etc, but the reality is in fact, quite different. People in the public sector who are struggling most on their salaries are not senior management, but the less well paid junior staff, nurses and teachers. If the amendment was to go through as proposed, pay in the public sector would be uncapped and linked to the rate of inflation, which would happen across the board - and in my opinion, that is not a very fair way of supporting public sector workers. If you apply the 80:20 principle, an across the board increase of a given percentage means that 20% of the already best paid staff receive 80% of the total additional money and the remaining 20% is divided amongst the 80% of the less well paid staff. Simplistic, yes, but as a general principle this applies not just in industry but in the public sector as well. So the scores of nurses, lab technicians, etc would see a minimal increase in salaries, whilst consultants - many of whom already supplement their income with private practice - would see the greatest increase. So I’m really glad that the amendment was not carried. I’m told that Jeremy Hunt and Justine Greening are already lobbying the Treasury hard to find a better way to help the lowest paid public sector workers, and I really look forward to the autumn when I hope they will be in a position to give us some good news. In the meantime, the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital has already been given an extra £1M of funding to help A&E department, and the new schools funding formula should be making a difference to children in Norfolk schools.
Another amendment I found interesting was the proposal to keep Britain in the single market post-Brexit. This was put forward on the supposed business case which the MP’s in favour were arguing for but, personally, I was intrigued by who did and who didn’t support it. As a pro-Remain amendment you would expect MPs who were elected on a pro-Remain ticket to be supportive - and, indeed, a second referendum on the final deal formed part of the debate, especially outside the Chamber. So I was surprised not to see Clive Lewis’ name amongst those in favour; in fact, he abstained, along with most of his Labour colleagues, despite being quite clear that he would advocate a second referendum all through his election campaign. A case of telling the voters what they wanted to hear just to get elected, and then forgetting all about them to follow the party whip?
In short, an interesting week in the Commons and I look forward to much more to come.