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Good morning. Talks between the RMT union, Network Rail and train companies resume today as the fallout of the walkout continues. Some further thoughts on the political and policy challenges facing the government. Thanks so much for your messages — please do get in touch at the below email address, and if you’re enjoying Inside Politics, tell a friend! Here’s our special subscription offer.
Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our latest stories
‘Power grab’ | The government will today set out legislation that will end the need to follow rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, deepening fears from lawyers and pressure groups of a state “power grab”.
Seeking a common ground | Rail bosses are calling on unions to accept almost 2,000 job losses, as the two sides seek to overcome their differences in talks after the biggest transport strike in a generation brought much of Britain grinding to a halt yesterday.
Defiant under Starmer | Sir Keir Starmer’s attempt to distance Labour from this week’s UK rail strikes ran into difficulty yesterday after several junior shadow ministers and the party’s leader in Scotland joined union members at stations taking industrial action.
Hybrid for some | Financial Times reporters spoke to commuters across the country to get a sense of the uneven impact of the railway strikes.
Jabs deal | The UK is collaborating with Boston-based Moderna to build the country’s first manufacturing centre for messenger RNA vaccines in a deal worth £1bn as it seeks to lead the way in life sciences investment.
The £44k question
How is the rail strike going for the government? The early signs from the polling is “not all that well”. Here’s the latest research by pollster Savanta ComRes, showing that about 60 per cent of UK voters believe the strikes this week are “justified”:
Now, survey wording is important, and if you ask people if they support or oppose the strikes you get a different answer. Here are survey results from YouGov:
My read of these polls is that both results are about accurate: most people would very much prefer it if there weren’t transport strikes because they are a pain in the neck. But a majority of people are keenly aware that their own incomes haven’t kept up with prices. They are, therefore, firmly on team “yeah, of course, you should be seeking a pay rise”.
In a debate about the strikes in parliament on June 15, transport secretary Grant Shapps took issue with the accusation of “inadequate pay” for railway staff. He told the House “the median salary for a train driver is £59,000, compared with £31,000 for a nurse and £21,000 for a care worker”.
As is the Conservative line-to-take, Shapps said railway workers earn an average salary of £44,000. To compare this with the lower wages on offer to teachers and nurses is actively counter-productive, for several reasons. The first is that it’s not true: the Department for Transport’s £44,000 figure only holds if you include train drivers, who are not on strike as of yet. Signallers, maintenance and train staff are taking part in the strike action this week. (The average salary for the workers in question is £36,800, according to 2021 figures by the ONS.)
But the second, and rather larger problem in my view, is that while £36,800 is above the UK average of £25,971, it is hardly an unimaginable sum for most people, or one that people would look and think “wow, check out Mr Moneybags over here”. It’s certainly not one that people would hear and think is immune from the ravages of inflation.
Now, I’m not saying that the government shouldn’t be worried about a wage-price spiral. But I am saying that an argument for wage restraint that rests on the idea that people earning £36,800, or £44,000 for that matter, are doing fine at the moment is a bad one. If I were a Conservative MP I would not touch it with a bargepole.
Hey! Teacher! Leave LinkedIn alone!
I wrote in Inside Politics yesterday that one cause for Tory solace is that it does, at least, have an inflation strategy, and one reason Labour has been visibly divided on how to respond to these strikes is that it doesn’t. I still think this is true. But several of you pointed out that while the Conservative party has an inflation strategy, it does not have a retention strategy for schools and hospitals. As one Conservative MP put it to me:
Our biggest problem in the NHS and schools is just that we don’t have enough people. We talk about building 40 new hospitals but what we really need to do is to be able to staff those hospitals.
This does create a bit of a lose-lose situation for the government. It wants to keep a lid on pay increases but there is a shortage of nurses both in the UK and worldwide (my colleagues Jamie Smyth and Sarah Neville have a marvellous Big Read on that). There is also a shortage of teachers in the UK, and seven out of 10 teachers in England have considered quitting their job in the past 12 months, according to a recent poll by the NASUWT teachers’ union. There was a strong case for a mammoth pay increase for those professions even before the increase in inflation.
As my source points out, it won’t be much consolation if the Conservative government manages to win the argument on pay but finds itself facing an election when public services are struggling to fill vacancies and fulfil their obligations.
Now try this
My partner and I saw Swan Song at the cinema last night. It stars Udo Kier as a widowed hairdresser who comes out of retirement to do one last job: fulfilling the last wish of a deceased ex-client that he do her hair one last time before her funeral. It is, as Danny Leigh writes in his review, “a bittersweet lo-fi comedy of old age whose salute to assertive flamboyance is also that rare thing: the movie that really moves you”.
It manages to both be a life-affirming watch and one that caused me to shed a tear as the credits rolled. Really worth seeing and one of my contenders for my favourite film of the year alongside Red Rocket and The Worst Person in the World.
Source: Financial Times