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UK Labour suffers defeat as lawmakers vote against end to pay cap

Posted June 28

British lawmakers have rejected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's bid to end a cap on public-sector pay, currently set at 1%.

The vote, an amendment to the Queen's Speech, which lays out the incoming government's policy agenda, was a crucial litmus test for Prime Minister Theresa May.

After her Conservative Party's poor showing in the recent general election, May's leadership and the future of Conservative governance was catapulted into chaos, with questions as to how she would form a minority government and manage to hold onto its helm during upcoming Brexit negotiations an unknown.

Grenfell fire central to debate

Corbyn's public-sector proposal drew from his longstanding political ethos and general election campaign promises to end and reverse austerity measures that have tightened since the financial crisis. His measure was teetering with popularity in the Commons as Corbyn sought to ride the zeitgeist of the Labour Party's election surge during the general election.

Read: Who is Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn's verbal public cry against the negative effect that many key public services have endured over the years of Conservative-led austerity measures has gained increasing support from the public sphere in light of the Grenfell Tower fire.

In his Commons defeat, Corbyn referenced May's response to the disaster.

"The Conservatives had an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, by ending cuts to our police and fire service and lifting the public sector pay cap. Although government ministers said they had learned the lessons of the general election and were listening to voters, it is clear that nothing has changed."

"They had the perfect opportunity to walk the walk, but instead they marched through the lobby to show Tory austerity is business as usual," he added.

UK MPs voted on the proposal after a lengthy and heated Prime Minister's Questions session in the House of Commons, where MPs had gathered to debate the Queen's Speech.

In it, Corbyn railed against the "disastrous effects of austerity," using Grenfell as his prime example of how budget cuts can easily spiral into avoidable disasters.

"When you cut local authority budgets by 40%, we all pay a price in public safety," Corbyn said.

"Fewer building inspectors, fewer planning inspectors -- we all pay a price ... those cuts to the fire service have meant that there are 11,000 fewer firefighters." He also accused the government of continuing to "disregard working-class communities" and of "cutting corners."

But May defended her party and the former coalition, arguing that the "the cladding of tower blocks began under the (Tony) Blair government" and that fire regulation checks had been amended as the result of a 2005 Labour government initiative.

May's necessary alliance

Corbyn's measure lost by 14 votes. The close count signals the tangible first indication of the importance of May's recent deal made with 10 members of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP.

In a bid to stay in power last week, May secured a controversial deal with the DUP. Under the agreement, the 10 DUP MPs agreed to back May's minority government over the Queen's Speech as well as bills relating to national security and Brexit.

Read more: The 10 people who can make or break Brexit

In exchange, May's government has pledged an additional -1 billion ($1.2 billion) investment over the next two years to Northern Ireland in addition to -500 million ($600 million) already committed. No additional spending has been directed to the UK's other devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.

In the defeat, Corbyn spoke to the DUP deal and questioned Conservatives' promise to ramp up safety services in light of the Grenfell disaster and recent terror attacks.

"While the money is there when the Conservatives need it to keep themselves in office, the rest of the country now face more devastating cuts to our emergency and other vital services," he said.

On Thursday, MPs will be asked to approve other parts of the Conservative Party's agenda in another vote -- which, if approved, will allow the new government to sit in Parliament.

Last week, Queen Elizabeth II attended the State Opening of Parliament and read out a Brexit-heavy list of the minority government's intentions for the coming two years. The speech included eight bills centered on the UK leaving the European Union, and measures to address the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London, as well as the Grenfell fire.

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