Britain’s opposition Labour Party will try to force Theresa May to increase public sector pay on Wednesday, increasing pressure on the prime minister to drop austerity measures after a botched election gamble. May, whose governing Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority in the June 8 election, has signalled she will listen more closely to Britons who are weary of the kind of cuts that some blame for a fire in west London that killed at least 80 people.
But in an amendment to her government’s programme, which requires parliamentary approval, Labour lawmakers will challenge a cap on public sector pay rises, limited to a below-inflation 1 percent a year for several years as the government seeks to reduce its budget deficit. Its leftist leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said the fire at Grenfell Tower and attacks by Islamist militants made it clear that emergency service workers “deserve the pay rise they have been denied for seven years”. “You can’t have safety and security on the cheap. It is plain to see that seven years of cuts to our emergency services has made us less safe; it’s time to make a change,” Corbyn said in a statement.
May’s spokesman said the government was “listening” to voters’ voices on austerity and would consider recommendations from pay review bodies before spelling out its policy on pay in a budget statement later this year – a signal it may be reconsidering its position that Labour welcomed.
The vote on the amendment, due to take place later on Wednesday, will be the first of many expected tests of the prime minister’s ability to govern after she sealed a deal with a small Northern Irish party to pass legislation in parliament.
May’s party won 318 seats in the election, so with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 lawmakers, she has a slender working majority in the 650-seat parliament. But the British leader is taking no chances. Her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, was called back for the vote from Switzerland where he was leading the British delegation in Cyprus peace talks.
Labour will use every opportunity to try to thwart the introduction of Conservative policies, especially “around austerity, cuts to vital public services and the continual real terms reductions in public sector pay”, Corbyn’s spokesman told reporters. “We will seek to use every mechanism in parliament to defeat them on those policies,” the spokesman said. “At the same time we will use every mechanism we can to advance our own policies.”