‘Will any Tory MPs have the guts to support legitimate pay demands?’

Why have the Conservatives got it in for people who work for a living? Why is Rishi Sunak so determined to force workers to accept increases of only 4 or 5 per cent – which with inflation at 11 per cent amounts to a serious pay cut – while pensioners and claimants will get inflation-matching rises next April?

Martin Shaw, Chair, East Devon Alliance www.exmouthjournal.co.uk

I’m old enough to remember when we clapped our hands each week for key workers. I even remember Mr Sunak joining in. How come that it’s now these very workers who must pay the price of the economic mess that the government has got us into?

They say that giving workers proper pay rises will keep push up inflation still further. But the government itself has just massively stoked inflation by raising electricity and gas prices by 27 per cent on 1st October, with 20 per cent more to come on 1st April. So why can’t workers have 10 per cent like everyone else, to keep pace with prices?

The government also says there is no more money left. But they’re still letting the ‘non-doms’ off their share of tax, they’ve just handed the banks a big tax rebate, and they’ve barely touched the energy firms’ huge windfall profits. Tory chair Nadim Zahawi even had the gall to say that workers are playing into the hands of Vladimir Putin, although it’s the Conservatives who’ve long flirted with Russian oligarchs.

Like everyone else, including I’m quite sure the workers themselves, I’d like to avoid the looming strikes. But fair-minded people will recognise that nurses, ambulance workers, teachers, post and railway workers have a right to take action, faced with huge price hikes and after a decade of austerity has eroded their living standards. It’s the government which needs to start listening, not only to their legitimate claims, but to the widespread support which they have from the general public.

The evidence, however, is that Mr Sunak only listens to his own MPs. Last week he ended his government’s block on onshore wind farms, a cheap and quickly built source of electricity, because enough Tory backbenchers had finally recognised the need for more renewables. But no sooner had he done that than he caved into other backbenchers who wanted a carbon-emitting coal mine in Cumbria. The UK’s green reputation is in tatters.

Sunak also gave into backbenchers over the government’s dictatorial housing targets for local councils. I’ve long opposed this system because it forces councils to allow developments of large detached houses in unsuitable semi-rural locations while doing little, if anything, to provide housing for rent on sustainable brownfield sites.

Although details are still to be confirmed, this shift should allow EDDC to revise the new Local Plan which is currently under consultation. Since even the government now accepts that community consent should be required for new developments, I hope that councillors will look again at some of the greenfield sites currently earmarked for housing.

The problem with Sunak’s U-turns is that there is no joined-up policy behind them. Wind farms are now allowed, but a large-scale programme to insulate homes and develop renewable energy, in ways that fit with the local environment in each area, is still nowhere to be seen. Housebuilding targets are no longer binding, but the problems caused by empty properties and second homes have barely been touched and there is no concerted campaign to provide the social housing which is the No. 1 need in Devon and across the country.

Will any Tory MPs now pick up these challenges, or have the guts to support workers’ legitimate pay demands? Don’t hold your breath – we seem set for two more years of drift and damage before we can finally remove this administration.