Former Conservative MP Gavin Barwell, who was appointed as Theresa May’s chief of staff after losing his Croydon Central seat to Labour, has pointed to public sector pay restraint as a key reason for dwindling Tory support in the general election campaign.
Speaking to the BBC’s Panorama, Barwell said Jeremy Corbyn had been able to “tap into” concerns about austerity, and convince voters that their quality of life would improve under Labour.
"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,’” Barwell said.
“I think back to the speech that Theresa gave outside No 10 on her first day as Prime Minister, where she made this really powerful point that the country as a whole is doing well economically but not everyone is seeing the benefits of that success,
“And I’d like to have seen more of that tone in our campaign, because I think you have to have something to say to people who understand the need for tough decisions but nonetheless need to feel that if ‘I vote for you, my quality of life is going to improve over the next five years’.”
Public sector pay was originally frozen for two years from 2010. This was then changed to a 1% cap on annual pay rises, which is still in place and was due – under pre-election Conservative plans – to remain in place until at least 2020.
Barwell’s comments echo those of former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake, who told CSW last week that the pay freeze had not only directly influenced voting decisions in yesterday’s poll, but its implications for the provision of services such as health and social care were also inextricably linked to issues close to voters hearts.
“It’s hard to see any party doing austerity now,” he said.
“The landscape is changing, and the consensus on public-sector pay will have to be revised.”
Barwell, who lost his marginal seat by around 5,000 votes, also said there was evidence that "angry" Remain voters had ditched the Tories.
"We are very clear in my seat, that the area of the constituency where Labour did best was the area that had voted heavily for Remain… So there's clearly evidence, I think, that people are angry about Brexit still, Jeremy Corbyn somehow managed to get them behind him."