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Sunday shows round-up: Philip Hammond says public sector workers paid ‘10 per cent premium’

16 July 2017

4:31 PM

16 July 2017

4:31 PM

Philip Hammond – Public sector workers paid ’10 per cent premium’

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has landed himself in hot water after he apparently claimed that public sector workers were overpaid during a recent meeting of the political cabinet. Andrew Marr challenged Hammond repeatedly over what he did in fact say, and gave the Chancellor several opportunities to deny that he had used the word ‘overpaid’:

Marr: Did you say it?

Hammond: Andrew, I’m not going to talk about what was or wasn’t said in a cabinet meeting and it’s easy to quote a phrase out of context, but I’m very happy to talk about the substantive issue. Public sector pay raced ahead of private sector pay after the crash in 2008/9. And taking public sector pay before pension contributions, that gap has now closed. Public and private sector pay on average are around about the same level. But when you take into account the very generous contributions that public sector employers have to pay in for their worker’s pensions… they are still about 10 per cent ahead. I don’t for a moment deny that there are areas the public service where recruitment and retention is becoming an issue, that there are areas of the country where public sector wages and private sector wages are getting out of kilter in the other direction, and we have to look at these things and we have to discuss them. But it’s important that we discuss them on the basis of the facts, not rhetoric from the Labour party or the trade unions.

Marr: Your own department denied that you used the word ‘overpaid’. Can I ask you directly, do you think that public sector workers in this country are, in general, overpaid?

Hammond: This is a relative question. This is about the relationship between public and private sector pay and it is a simple fact – independent figures show this – that public sector workers on average are paid about 10 per cent more than private sector workers. We have to bear that in mind.

Marr: So, relative to private sector workers, are they overpaid?

Hammond: Relative to private sector workers they are paid about a 10 per cent premium. Now I know… you can’t feed your kids with your pension contributions – I understand that. I understand all the issues that public sector workers are facing…

Marr: I think most people watching this discussion will conclude that you did say that they were overpaid.

Hammond: …I’m the Chancellor. You would expect me to put any discussion about public sector pay in the context of the fiscal and economic situation that we face. Others, who represent spending departments employing large numbers of public sector workers will bring their experience and their realities to the table, and that’s how we have a discussion, and how we eventually reach decisions.

Hammond’s evasiveness over his choice of words here contrasts sharply with his flat denial that he had suggested that train driving was so easy that ‘even a woman could do it’. Marr also produced a payslip (provided by John McDonnell) owned by a cleaner whose wages were £297 per week and asked Hammond if the cleaner in question was overpaid. Hammond replied:

Hammond: Low pay is not just an issue in the public sector. It’s a real issue in the private sector as well… The only way that we can create the high wage economy that we want to have sustainably is to increase productivity, to get our public finances into good order. There isn’t a shortcut here.

John McDonnell – Grenfell disaster was ‘social murder’

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has not backed down from his previous comments that the disaster at Grenfell Tower amounted to ‘social murder’. Speaking to Andrew Marr, he reiterated what he had said before and said that he believed that politicians should be held to account on that basis. He made clear that he referred not only to those responsible for the installation of flammable cladding, but also to cuts in fire services and reductions in the number of fire fighters:

Marr: Do you regret saying that the people who died in Grenfell Tower were killed by political murder?

McDonnell: No I don’t regret that. I was extremely angry with what went on, and I’m a West London MP. This site is not far from me. Political decisions were made which resulted in the deaths of these people, and that’s a scandal.

Marr: But murder means a specific thing. Murder means a volition to actually kill another human being. Intentional killing.

McDonnell: There’s a long history in this country of the concept of social murder, where decisions are made with no regard to the consequences of that, and as a result of that, people have suffered. That’s what’s happened here. And I’m angry about –

Marr: And you regard it as murder?

McDonnell: I believe social murder has occurred in this instance and I believe people should be held to account for that.

Marr: So who are the murderers?

McDonnell: I think there’s been a consequence of political decisions over the years that have not addressed the housing crisis that we’ve had, that have cut back on local government so proper inspections have not [been] made… 11,000 fire fighters’ jobs have been cut as well. Even the investment in aerial ladders and things like that in our country.

Marr: So the politicians who sanctioned the cuts are murderers?

McDonnell: I believe that politicians have to be held to account. I remain angry at how many people have lost their lives as a result of political decisions that have been made over the years…

Marr: …To be absolutely clear these decisions happened under Labour and Tory governments over the years…

McDonnell: I set up the Fire Brigade’s Union Parliamentary Group. Way back in 2004, I raised the issue of sprinklers. All through these last seven years in particular, I’ve been going along with ministers on behalf of the FBU to say ‘Stop cutting fire fighter jobs. Stop undermining national standards’. No one was listening at that point in time.

Marr: A very very strong word to use, but murder is still how you regard those politicians who took those decisions?

McDonnell: I do not resile from what I’ve said, and I remain angry at the loss of life that has taken place not far away from my constituency.

Philip Hammond referred to McDonnell’s use of the phrase ‘social murder’ (a term coined by Friedrich Engels) as a ‘disgraceful suggestion’ and said that there ‘was absolutely not a shred of evidence to support that’.

Tony Blair – It’s possible that Brexit doesn’t happen

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has resurfaced once again, this time for an interview with Sophy Ridge. Blair had plenty to say, but perhaps the most notable moment was his assertion that, like Sir Vince Cable, he believed that it was possible that Brexit would not go ahead:

Ridge: Are you still convinced that Brexit is going to happen?

Blair: I think it’s possible now that Brexit doesn’t happen. I think it’s absolutely necessary that it doesn’t happen, because I think every day is bringing us fresh evidence that it’s doing us damage economically, certainly doing us damage politically. And I think that when people really reflect on why we wanted to do Brexit and why the country voted for it, then they can see that in respect of the immigration issue, the overwhelming majority of these European migrants who come into our country are people we actually need for various reasons. So I think as this thing goes on, the cost-benefit analysis of leaving becomes very clear. And then the question you’ve got to ask really is ‘Have we got the political leadership in the country to try and explain to people what the different options are and guide us in a different direction?’

Ridge: So how would it come to a halt then? Would there be another referendum?

Blair: Yeah, it’s a really good question, because obviously… I think public opinion is moving – this time last year we were the fastest growing economy in the G7. We’re now the slowest. Our savings ratio is the lowest for 50 years. The investment community internationally has gone really negative on us. Our currency’s down 10-12 per cent. Investment in the motor car industry for example is down 30 per cent. Living standards are stagnating. I mean, this is causing us real damage. That’s beyond doubt. So the question is, in circumstances where the party leadership in both main parties is still committed to Brexit, how does it happen? I think it happens if there is a strong movement for change out in the country that start to impact on MPs, and how that happens – second referendum, votes in Parliament and so on – I think that in a sense, you get to that later. The question is, can you get a clear sense form the people in the country, the clear will that they expressed last June, is shifting.

Blair – I’ve got to pay tribute to Corbyn’s temperament

And Blair was forced to eat some of his words about the current Labour leader after his remarkable reversal of fortune since the election. However, Blair did not go as far as saying that Jeremy Corbyn would be a good fit for Blair’s old job:

Ridge: I’m keen to talk a bit more about that election result because it must seem as though you got Jeremy Corbyn pretty much completely wrong. Just to look at some of the things you’ve said about him previously – ‘If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader, it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation’ – you weren’t just a bit off there, you were way off.

Blair: Yeah, that’s absolutely correct. So I think this election by the way was held in very unique circumstances. I think that at the beginning of the election campaign, we were going to be routed. I think what happened was as much to d with the Tory campaign as our campaign. However, I say this absolutely upfront… I’ve got to pay tribute to his temperament during the campaign. To their mobilisation, particularly of younger voters. The way they fought the campaign and they’ve generated a lot of enthusiasm, I completely buy that. What I don’t buy is two things. First of all, I think a lot of people voted Labour, not because they thought he was about to be Prime Minister and that Labour was about to win, but because they were horrified at the Tory campaign and wanted to put the brakes on it. And secondly , I think there will be significant numbers of people for sure voted for him with enthusiasm, I think there were an awful lot of people who voted for him because they couldn’t stand the Tories and wanted to make a point. And I’m sceptical myself that this is a coalition that’s capable of holding, particularly if it becomes clear that we’re really in the same position as the Tories on Brexit.

Ridge: Do you think he’d be a good Prime Minister?

Blair: The doubts I expressed before, I haven’t changed my mind on that. I think the problem with that old left programme is that it doesn’t meet the needs of the times. And the danger for the country – all I do when I speak on these things is create a big shedload of abuse, so why am I doing it? – I’m actually really about the country at the moment. I think if you follow up Brexit with a hard left economic programme, this country is going to be in real trouble.

Rebecca Long-Bailey – On Brexit, we want to have our cake and eat it

On the Sunday Politics, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has rather given the game away as she revealed to Andrew Neil that on Brexit, Labour wanted to have its cake and eat it, rather like a certain Foreign Secretary who is also known to be pro-cake:

Long-Bailey: We want to retain the current benefits that we have as a member of the single market but we appreciate that there will be free movement and we’ll lose control over our laws. Now that was one of the key positions that was set out in the referendum and people were extremely concerned about that, so that has to be negotiated. If we could negotiate membership of the single market whilst dealing with free movement and dealing with the other issues, that that would be great, but I think that’s probably will be unlikely, and we’ll have to look at being a more flexible approach that maintains the benefits that we currently have in the single market, whilst perhaps not being a member.

Neil: Is Labour in favour of remaining a member of the customs union?

Long-Bailey: Well again, the position is very similar. We want to maintain the benefits that we currently have within the customs union, but we want to have our cake and eat it, as do most parties in Westminster in terms of being able to negotiate our own trade deals.

Neil: So you and Boris Johnson are on the same wavelength then?

Long-Bailey: Well, we need to be flexible. we’ve got to not cut off our nose to spite our face, and we reject the principle of no deal that the Conservatives have…

Neil: I’m not asking about that. I’m asking for your position. Let me get this clear – would you be prepared to sacrifice not being able to do free trade deals as the price of remaining in the customs union?

Long-Bailey: Well, we’ve got to be extremely flexible. We should be able to carry out and negotiate our own trade deals and that’s the ideal position to be in.

Neil: But you can’t do that in the customs union. So are you in, or are you out?

Long-Bailey: That’s why it’s a point for negotiation Andrew, because we want to retain the benefits of the customs union whilst also being able to negotiate trade deals as we see fit, and that will form part of the negotiations themselves, but we can’t cut our nose off to spite our face and come out of the customs union without any transitional arrangements whatsoever, and send businesses over the edge of a cliff.

Spectator makes ‘cold Pol Roger’ the new ‘warm prosecco’

Philip Hammond’s appearance on Marr also prompted this exchange about Pol Roger – the champagne served a few days earlier at the Spectator summer party.

Hammond: Well look, I – I don’t know who said what. I do know – I think David Lidington, my colleague David Lidington who appeared on your show last week was probably spot on the money when he said we’re in the middle of the silly summer season with lots of warm Prosecco and late night–

Marr: Cold Pol Roger, I think in fact.

Hammond: Well it may have been – I wasn’t there – it may have been cold Pol Roger.

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