Liz Truss has abandoned a Tory leadership pledge to slash public sector pay for workers outside London just hours after it was announced, prompting warnings from supporters of her rival Rishi Sunak that such a mistake could cost the party a future general election.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock and influential Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen were among those who likened the “poorly-judged” policy to the “dementia tax” fiasco which partly saw Theresa May fail to secure a majority in the 2017 general election.
Tory MP Mark Harper warned that Margaret Thatcher “would be livid” over the £8.8bn hole left in Ms Truss’s plans after the U-turn, and urged the foreign secretary to “stop blaming journalists” after she sought to claim she had been “misrepresented” in entirely accurate reports of her press release on the policy.
Ms Truss also sparked fury after branding Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon an “attention-seeker” who should be ignored, in comments at the Tory hustings in Exeter on Monday dubbed “deeply troubling” by Ms Sturgeon’s deputy, John Swinney.
The government has said it is “deeply concerned” by claims that millions of factory farm chickens died during the recent record-breaking heatwave, prompting an investigation by officials.
The birds – confined to industrial farm sheds – suffered in temperatures of up to 45C and died slowly of heat exhaustion, it was alleged.
Some large producers made little or no effort to ease the pressure of the heat on the animals, the insiders told The Independent on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.
My colleagues Anna Isaac and Jane Dalton have the exclusive report here:
Exclusive: The government says it is ‘deeply concerned’ about scale of fatalities as officials launch investigation into the deaths
‘Demoralised’ civil servant accuses government of using sector as a ‘target’
A “demoralised” civil servant has lamented the onslaught of attacks on the sector by ministers and leadership hopefuls.
“It just feels as though we’re sort of puppets, and whenever the government need an escape or an easy way out, or a cost-saving measure, we’re a target,” they told LBC.
Labour frontbenchers attack Liz Truss over public sector pay cut U-turn
Here is some reaction from the Labour frontbench to Liz Truss’s public sector pay cut U-turn:
Analysis | Has Liz Truss fallen victim to ‘civil service reform syndrome’?
Prior to Liz Truss’s U-turn today, The Independent’s Whitehall editor Kate Devlin had asked in this analysis piece whether the foreign secretary had “fallen victim to ‘civil service reform syndrome’”.
Warning that Ms Truss’s reforms could prove more difficult to implement than expected, she wrote: “Civil service reform – three words that provoke fear and exasperation across Whitehall and beyond.
As the Institute for Government points out, ministers have been concerned with reform almost since the 1854 report by Sir Charles Trevelyan and Sir Stafford Northcote formed the basis of the civil service.
“Fads and political bugbears have come and gone (previous generations of officials are unlikely to have found notes at their desks asking why they are working from home, such as those recently dished out by Jacob Rees-Mogg, for instance).
“But there have been some recurring themes, often focused on changes to civil service culture, including pay and conditions.”
The Tory hopeful is following a well-worn path to attacking Whitehall bureacracy, says Kate Devlin
Tories such as Truss could think cutting public sector pay ‘is a proper levelling up policy’, ex-No 10 aide says
Some Conservatives such as Liz Truss may think that her now-ditched plans to cut public sector pay outside of London “is a proper leveling up policy”, a policy expert has suggested.
Giles Wilkes, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government think-tank and former adviser to Theresa May, suggested this could be the case “because they think outside the South East the problem is the private sector struggling to attract good workers, who are drawn instead to relatively well-paid public sector jobs”.
Last night’s Exeter hustings in summary
For those who missed the Tory hustings in Exeter last night, here is a summary of some of the key moments:
- Both candidates faced quick-fire rounds of questioning, in which Rishi Sunak insisted he was in politics “to radically transform things” and Liz Truss revealed that the opposition politician she admires most is Labour’s Rosie Duffield.
- Mr Sunak backed the plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda but said it was not good enough for the government just to announce the scheme and must actually “make it work” – moments after insisting the UK is an “unbelievably special” place that “gives refuge to those fleeing persecution”.
- In an uncomfortable overlap with Ms Truss’s vow to press ahead with legislation allowing her to rip up parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Mr Sunak insisted that the UK “can’t rip up treaties we’ve already signed” as he made an apparent dig at her efforts while international trade secretary. The ex-chancellor argued that ministers shouldn’t be rushing to sign post-Brexit trade deals as quickly as possible but should take “the time to get them right”.
- Attempting to claw back support from party members fired up by the radical right-wing politics of former rival Kemi Badenoch, who appear to be favouring Ms Truss, Mr Sunak sought to play up his “radicalism” throughout the evening, going on to insist that he is “definitely” the “change” candidate. In comments that do little for his credentials as the more experienced contender, he pointed out that Ms Truss was in the Cabinet before he was even an MP.
- Calling herself a “child of the Union”, Ms Truss gave her verdict on a second independence referendum by saying the “best thing to do with Nicola Sturgeon is to ignore her” – drawing wild cheers from the Tory audience before labelling the Scottish first minister “an attention-seeker”.
- Ms Truss suggested that the Treasury “needs to change” and, when asked if she would break the department up, said: “Well I wouldn’t want to give them any advance warning.”
- The foreign secretary brushed off polls suggesting she would lose to sir Keir Starmer in a general election, saying: “I’ve seen the opposite polls which said I would win.”
- She also returned to criticising the Leeds school system of her youth, accusing the city’s left-wing council of having “cared more about political correctness than making sure everybody could read and write”.
Liam Fox campaigning for Rishi Sunak in Aberdeen
Fresh from his appearance onstage at last night’s hustings in Exeter, Tory former minister Liam Fox is now at the opposite end of the country seeking to convince Conservative members to back Rishi Sunak.
Truss U-turn sparks general election fears among Tories – and comparisons with ‘dementia tax’ fiasco
Former health secretary Matt Hancock has become the latest Conservative to point to Liz Truss’s U-turn as the type of mistake that could cost the Tories a future general election – similarly to Theresa May’s disastrous dementia tax policy in 2017.
“What if this sort of basic error was made during an election campaign? 2017 all over again. Poor judgement, lack of detail and a gift to Labour,” Mr Hancock said, adding: “Cutting public sector pay outside London is a bad idea … This is levelling down not levelling up.”
Influential Tory mayor for Teesside Ben Houchen also warned that the U-turn could be Ms Truss’s “dementia tax moment” in remarks to the BBC.
Their comments follow similar claims by Tory grassroots group, the Liberal Conservatives, who warned: “Mistakes like this can cost general elections, as Theresa May’s ‘Dementia Tax’ mess showed. Now is not the time for chaotic, uncosted and untested policy promises. We need competent leadership.”
Truss repeats claim her abandoned pay cut policy was ‘misrepresented’
Liz Truss has doubled down on claims that her now-abandoned policy pledge was “misrepresented” – after her press release on the plan was accurately reported to include her campaign’s claim that applying the planned cuts to all public sector workers could save £8.8bn.
But the foreign secretary insisted that people were “unnecessarily worried” about her plans for regional pay boards, telling the BBC in Dorset: “I’m afraid that my policy on this has been misrepresented. I never had any intention of changing the terms and conditions of teachers and nurses.
“But what I want to be clear about is I will not be going ahead with the regional pay boards. That is no longer my policy.”
In response to the suggestion it was an error of judgment, she said: “I’m being absolutely honest, I’m concerned that people were worried – unnecessarily worried – about my policies and therefore I’m being clear that the regional pay boards will not go ahead.”
Here is what Tory MP Mark Harper had to say on the matter, in a sharp rebuke to the foreign secretary:
‘The lady is for turning,’ Sunak campaign says after Truss abandons pay cut pledge
A source in the Rishi Sunak campaign team has joked that “the lady is for turning” after Liz Truss’s screeching policy U-turn today, in a reference to Margaret Thatcher’s famous declaration to the contrary.
The ex-chancellor’s camp echoed Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves in saying that Ms Truss had argued for such a move when she was chief secretary to the Treasury in 2018.
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