The Tories are starting their series of U-turns on the public sector pay cap, but after so much see-sawing over whether they would drop the cap or not, the party will get very little political credit for doing so. It now looks as though ministers are yielding to pressure from Labour and Conservative backbenchers, rather than deciding that the time for pay restraint has come to an end.
As I wrote last week, the decision to end the pay freeze is only the latest in a line of concessions to disgruntled MPs following the snap election and the DUP deal. The next political row could well be Northern transport infrastructure.
I understand that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling held a meeting last week with Tory MPs representing northern seats to try to allay their fears about the brewing row on spending on railways in particular. Andy Burnham has been very effective in tapping into a sense of a North-South divide in spending, and Conservative MPs in the region are aware that their constituents are growing increasingly infuriated by the age of the trains and the overcrowding on those trains. Ministers in the Transport Department are confident that they are doing a great deal to invest in transport in the North of England, and that the problem is that this hasn’t been sufficiently well-communicated to MPs and their voters. The problem is that even if this is the case in policy terms, once a row becomes political, the detail can make little difference. And when a row becomes political, ministers need to do more than just hold talks with backbenchers: they need to yield on something. And as the row over the public sector pay cap has shown, it’s not a good idea to wait until late in the day to yield.