It hasn’t been a good year for the party of austerity. The Conservatives have been heavily critisized over Brexit, challenged by a firmly anti-austerity Labour leader, and suffered a disastrous election result.
Capitalising on his electoral gains and the uncertain mood on the Tory benches, Corbyn has managed to split May’s cabinet on the issue of public sector pay. His amendment to the Queen’s Speech was a master stroke. Individual MPs would have to either challenge their government, signalling an important concession to Labour following the general election, or go on record voting against an immediate end to the unpopular public sector pay cap.
It must have been a tense night for the Conservatives in the House of Commons as May tried to pull her party together for the Queen’s Speech. Ultimately, nobody from the Tory benches chose to defy the whip and vote for the Labour amendment. But those MPs went home rightfully concerned about the decision they had just been forced to make. Angry constituents were already taking to Twitter and Facebook to voice their fury over the decision to continue to cap pay for nurses, firefighters and police, especially considering their heroic performance in the wake of Grenfell and several terrorist attacks.
The way the Tories would spin their decision to block the amendment was made quickly – we want a public sector pay rise, just not the one proposed by Labour.
Jeremy Hunt immediately went on record to say that he was awaiting the results of an independent public sector pay review. It was a weak argument and one that will not wash very well with the voters.
Desperate for a policy that would show the voters that the Tories, too, were capable of spending some money on the public, information was leaked that May was considering a U-turn on university tuition fees.
If it was intended to win over Labour voters it could not have performed any more badly. First of all, it gives validity to Corbyn, who the Tory press were keen to label as a Marxist crackpot. Secondly, it again disproves the idea that there is 'no magic money tree' – a point that was also made when £1bn was found for Northern Ireland at the drop of a hat when Theresa May’s position as Prime Minister came under threat.
One thing is clear: Labour’s ideas about state intervention are growing in popularity, and Theresa May knows it.
She was keen to explore the idea of capping energy prices during her election campaign - a policy championed by Ed Miliband and now by Corbyn. Nationalisation of the railways is now popular and back on the political agenda. More and more people seem to be rejecting the idea of neoliberalism, and are calling for more investment in education, healthcare, housing, transport and the emergency services.
Pressure has been mounting in Number 10, with senior Cabinet ministers including Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove now calling for a public sector pay rise. If they succeed, it will only give credence to Corbyn as a man on the right side of history.
According to The Independent, Corbyn is now twenty-four points ahead of May in the polls. With Labour on a permanent campaign footing across key marginal seats, where austerity continues to be a decisive vote changer, it seems to be less of a question of whether Labour would win another election, but whether one will be called which will keep May in power.
The Tories seem to be realising the popularity of Corbyn’s anti-austerity politics and have decided to call his bluff by U-turning on some of their key manifesto pledges. This leaves two questions. Firstly, if the money was available to do this, then why has the country suffered year-on-year cuts since 2010? Secondly, why have a Corbyn-Lite Tory government led by the inept and increasingly unpopular Theresa May, when you can have the real thing?