David Cameron has sparked an angry backlash from Labour after declaring that critics of austerity are “selfish”.
In a rare return to the political front line, the former Prime Minister said that those calling for an end to the 1% public sector pay cap would be “spending money today that you may need tomorrow”.
His remarks, aimed at both Labour and Tory MPs calling for an end to the seven-year wages freeze, triggered a swift response from Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
“Time and time again the Tories demonstrate they live in a different world from the rest of us,” McDonnell told HuffPost UK.
And the ex-PM risked a backlash as he set out his views in a well-paid speech to business and political leaders in South Korea.
Cameron, who is said to have pocketed more than £100,000 for one speech alone last year, waded into the controversy just a day after Chancellor Philip Hammond warned “we must hold our nerve” on spending.
A spokesman for Cameron confirmed to HuffPostUK that the former premier was being paid for this speech in Seoul, but said that he “never discussed” the size of his fee. Previous estimates of speech fees were “speculation, he added.
Cameron’s words will be seen as a direct attack on Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, both of whom have joined a long line of ministers calling for the seven-year pay squeeze to be eased.
“The opponents of so called austerity couch their arguments in a way that make them sound generous and compassionate,” Cameron told the Asia Leadership Conference.
“They seek to paint the supporters of sound finances as selfish, or uncaring. The exact reverse is true.
“Giving up on sound finances isn’t being generous, it’s being selfish: spending money today that you may need tomorrow.”
The Cabinet did not discuss public sector pay at its weekly meeting on Tuesday, but No.10 insisted that Hammond had shared his own speech with May “in the usual way”.
Hammond - like Cameron a staunch Remain campaigner in last year’s EU referendum - suggested that Brexit was partly to blame for the pay squeeze, as it led to a plunging pound that fuelled inflation.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told HufPost UK: “Only David Cameron would say that hard working people seeing their living standards fall back and their pay suppressed is good for them. It just further shows how out of touch he was then, and still remains today.
“The austerity measures such as the public sector pay cuts that he brought in, which Theresa May has continued, were meant to divide communities and undermine working people. And it has led to a situation in our country where we have nurses relying on food banks, while the Tories are giving billions of pounds worth of tax giveaways to big business and the super rich.
“Only a Labour government will truly unite our country by building a high wage, high skill economy of the future.”