LONDON — Former prime minister David Cameron has labelled those seeking to end seven years of cuts to public spending as “selfish” as the splits in Theresa May’s cabinet over whether to raise the public sector pay cap widen.
Cameron, who was prime minister when the 1% cap on wage increases was introduced and oversaw a two year pay freeze from 2010-2012, spoke in favour of continued austerity at an event in South Korea.
The former prime minister said “The opponents of so-called austerity couch their arguments in a way that make them sound generous and compassionate,
“They seek to paint the supporters of sound finances as selfish or uncaring. The exact reverse is true. Giving up on sound finances isn’t being generous, it’s being selfish: spending money today that you may need tomorrow.”
His comments are in support of the chancellor, Philip Hammond, as he comes under increasing pressure to scrap the public sector pay cap and can be interpreted as an attempt to protect his legacy.
Downing Street were forced into a double U-turn last week after suggesting that the cap would be lifted, only to reverse their position just hours later following protests from the Treasury.
Increasing numbers of senior Conservatives have called for the cap to be eased, with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove amongst those publicly saying that austerity should be eased.
Hammond and Prime Minister Theresa May have come under increasing pressure to change their policy in recent weeks, following the shock election result that deprived the Tories of a majority.
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the education secretary, Justine Greening, have been amongst other ministers who have called on Hammond to ease the restrictions on public sector pay as they seek more money for their departments.
Firefighters have been offered a 2% pay rise this year, leading to Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union calling the pay cap “dead in the water.”
While firefighters’ pay isn’t governed by central government and therefore not capped at 1% rises, it has been pegged to the same pay rises as other public sector workers for the past seven years.
Tory MPs and ministers have suggested that delaying planned tax cuts such as raising the threshold for the 40p tax could fund lifting the public sector pay cap.
Cameron’s comments echoed those made in a speech by the chancellor on Monday, when Hammond said that the government must “hold its nerve” on austerity.
Former Tory chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson said “we [the Conservatives] should stop having this debate in public, it’s ludicrous, I did manage to eliminate the deficit altogether when I was chancellor and the economy did very well indeed.
It is good and necessary to have a discussion in government about how this can be achieved but it is not helpful, it would be horrifying in my day, to have this out in public.
Labour’s chancellor John McDonnell commented “the firefighters, police officers, nurses, and ambulance drivers who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe have been abandoned by a Tory government intent on holding down their pay, while ploughing ahead with tax giveaways to a wealthy few.”