Newly appointed cabinet minister Michael Gove has signaled that Theresa May’s government is considering an attempt to draw a line under austerity by raising spending on public services.
May’s shaky new government still has to push through a Queen’s Speech in the House of Commons before its status can be secured, but there are signs of a new direction of travel for economic policy.
Gove, having returned to the fold as secretary of state for Defra, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ministers “need to reflect on what the election result told us about the way people want to see the economy managed in the future.
We also need to take account of legitimate public concerns about ensuring that we properly fund public services
“I think there is an important balance to be struck, and we need to get on with the job of reducing the deficit so that we do not saddle the next generation with a burden of debt…we also need to take account of legitimate public concerns about ensuring that we properly fund public services.”
Whether the sentiment amounts to a dramatic change in public spending, or merely a slight easing of further cuts, will now depend on a consensus emerging among senior Tories, rather than Prime Minister May’s own views on the matter.
Among the issues reportedly discussed at yesterday’s 1922 Committee of backbench MPs was austerity as a major drag on votes. May, who argued her case to continue as PM at the meeting, was said to have accepted the public were fed up of endless rounds of cuts.
May’s new chief of staff Gavin Barwell also said he accepted that seven years of a squeeze on public spending under Conservative-led government had worn people down.
“There’s a conversation I particularly remember with a teacher who had voted for me in 2010 and 2015 and said, ‘You know I understand the need for a pay freeze for a few years to deal with the deficit but you’re now asking for that to go on potentially for 10 or 11 years and that’s too much,'” he told BBC’s Panorama.
Barwell admitted the Tories had struggled to persuade people their “quality of life” would improve.
Without any other detail, it remains to be seen what these vague concerns and aspirations mean when the next budget rolls around.