Such are the complexities of spin and journalistic interpretation
that we may never know whether or not Tony Blair ever intended to take a
43 per cent pay rise next May.
What is clear is that even this control-conscious Labour Government is
finding it tough to keep a handle on the message.
If we take the media version of events it ’emerged’ last week that the
Prime Minister was expected to take the pay rise - having shown some
restraint in the past. Downing Street ’believed’ that the PM and his
Cabinet colleagues would take the award set by the Pay Review Body.
This was ’confirmed’ by some source, and a few departmental briefers
even thought the PM was saying his colleagues ’should’ take their pay
Tony Blair was immediately accused of being an aspiring ’fat cat’ and in
the twinkling of an eye - well by the end of the same day anyway - he
was confounding his senior team by making it clear he had ’no intention’
of taking his ’entitlement’.
What are we to make of this?
First, no matter what folk may claim, this was a foul up. The Government
was caught off guard, the message was unclear, the policy was in
disarray and the Opposition was given an opportunity to score some
points - they must have thought some murmuring of Christmas had come at
What is important is how the Government emerged from the confusion. And
that is interesting. Remember that the Chancellor is keen to hold pay
rises in the public sector to ’no more than inflation’.
What has the Government established? First that Tony Blair and his
colleagues were somehow ’entitled’ to the pay rise because a Pay Review
Body said so. Second that the Leader of the Opposition had taken his
full increase this year whereas Tony Blair had not and third the
Government’s top team has set a conspicuous standard in pay restraint
which without the furore might have gone unnoticed.
Not a bad recovery really. At a time of inevitable teething troubles in
the relationship between a new administration and the Government
Information Service, ministers would do well to remember that above
everything else, the GIS is good at getting politicians out of holes.
They’ve had a lot of practice.