Jeremy Corbyn’s amendment on Wednesday to the Tories’ Queen’s Speech was both intelligent and right.
By proposing the lifting of the cap on the pay of public sector employees – including the firefighters, police and NHS staff who have won universal acclaim in the recent terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire, he forced the Conservatives to choose between their narrow party interest to cling to power and the wellbeing and fair treatment of millions of hard-working public servants.
The Tories chose party interest. Of course.
An amendment today was equally well chosen. Stella Creasy’s proposal to put Northern Irish women on equal footing with those in the rest of the UK as regards abortion – currently NI women pay around £1400 to come to Britain for abortions – is fair but also put the Tories in a bind.
And they folded. Knowing that more than enough Tory MPs were likely to rebel to carry the amendment and that this would end the validity of the government, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Equalities Minister Justine Greening rushed out a letter to MPs promising to fund abortions for NI women.
Ms Creasy has not yet announced whether she will withdraw her amendment, but if she does the government is likely to accept it rather than risk a vote on what is considered a matter of conscience for MPs, meaning a free, unwhipped vote.
But by making this panicked concession, the Tories have driven a wedge between themselves and the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), which is fiercely anti-abortion and has long resisted every attempt to liberalise NI abortion law:
None of the mainstream outlets seem yet to be talking about the likely fall-out of the government grasping at this particular straw to save itself from oblivion – but it is highly likely that angry conversations are going on behind the scenes right now between Tory and DUP MPs.
Whether this will be enough to fracture the alliance and trigger a DUP protest-vote on another Queen’s Speech amendment to put the Tories in their place remains to be seen, but this is a visceral issue for the loyalist party and at the very least it bodes ill for Tory hopes of any kind of durability for their minority government.
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