Liz Truss slammed by Houchen for u-turned policy
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And the ex-MP for Maidstone and the Weald suggested while there was some logic behind the general principle, Ms Truss had scored an “own goal” by rushing the idea out without due care and attention. An initial statement issued by her campaign proposed the introduction of regional pay boards, claiming such a move could save up to £8.8billion annually.
It explained: “This is the potential savings if the system were to be adopted for all public sector workers in the long term.”
However, following widespread criticism, including from Tory leadership rival Rishi Sunak, she scrapped the proposal barely 12 hours later.
Ms Widdecombe, who is also a former Brexit Party MEP, told Express.co.uk: “It was not her brightest idea.”
Describing the episode as “something of an own goal”, she added: “There is some rhyme and reason to it.
“But it’s so complicated that you can’t just you know, rush out a policy like that.
“There was some sense in it, but it is so complex, and she should never have just announced it on the hoof.
Nevertheless, Ms Widdecombe did not believe the controversy would derail Ms Truss’s campaign.
She said: “She’s dropped it and if it’s no longer operative, then there will be other things that will overtake it, frankly. I doubt very much that it’s going to be an issue at the next election.”
Ms Truss had announced the move as part of a “war on Whitehall waste” to make savings from the Civil Service – but the Sunak campaign argued the plan would slash the pay of nearly six million public sector workers, with nurses, police and armed forces members facing £1,500 of cuts.
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Critics claimed the policy as outlined in the statement could risk losing the Tories’ votes in the north, especially in so-called Red Wall seats.
Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, who is backing Mr Sunak, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme that the “horrifically bad” policy “could be Liz’s dementia tax moment”.
Speaking to TalkTV’s The News Desk, he said “fundamentally, it’s just a bonkers policy”, adding: “It would have seen huge swathes of the north of England not voting Conservative. We would have seen red wall seats go elsewhere rather than the Conservative Party, and we would have lost our majority.”
David Davis, Tory MP for Haltemprice and Howden, who is likewise supporting Mr Sunak in the leadership contest, told Sky News that Liz Truss’s team “didn’t think through” the proposed policy of restricting public sector workers’ pay and consequent U-turn.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday morning, he said: “They started by accusing journalists of misrepresenting it, and the journalists then quite properly read back their press statement – it was very, very obvious. And now they are accusing us of misrepresenting it.
“No. This is what they said. The people who misrepresented them was themselves. They didn’t think through.”
Speaking to the BBC in Dorset, Ms Truss said: “I’m afraid that my policy on this has been misrepresented. I never had any intention of changing the terms and conditions of teachers and nurses.
“But what I want to be clear about is I will not be going ahead with the regional pay boards, that is no longer my policy.
“I’m being absolutely honest, I’m concerned that people were worried, unnecessarily worried about my policies and therefore I’m being clear that the regional pay boards will not be going ahead.”
Former chief whip Mark Harper, the Tory MP for the Forest of Dean, who is also backing Mr Sunak, told Ms Truss to stop “blaming journalists – reporting what a press release says isn’t ‘wilful misrepresentation’.
“So this U-turn has wiped out £8.8 billion in savings. Where are these going to come from now? An economic policy that can’t be paid for isn’t very Conservative. Mrs Thatcher would be livid.”
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