03/07/2017 10:02 BST | Updated 03/07/2017 18:53 BST

Public Sector Pay Cap Must Stay Even If Voters Dislike It, Says Lord Lamont

'It’s not really austerity.'

Theresa May must not abandon austerity just because cabinet ministers think voters have turned against it, Lord Lamont has said.

The former Conservative chancellor told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning that public spending cuts were not something people could just get bored of like “too many repeats on TV”.

“What concerns me there is seems to be growing in the Conservative party and among ministers a feeling that because the electorate disliked austerity that this is the message that has come back and therefore it ought to be discarded,” he said.

And he claimed “public sector pay is on average higher than the private sector” pay.

It was reported this morning that Boris Johnson is among the senior Tories urging the prime minister to lift the 1% cap on public sector pay.

Yesterday Michael Gove said the government has “got to listen” to the pay review bodies - one of which has already recommended a pay rise for NHS workers this year.

Labour has called for the pay cap to be discarded and last week attempted to force the issue with an amendment to the Queen’s Speech.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner accused Conservative ministers pushing to end the pay freeze was “hypocrisy”.

This morning Lord Lamont, who was chancellor in the early 1990s, slapped down Conservatives like Johnson who want May and Philip Hammond to ease off on austerity. “This is not a choice. It is unavoidable that we have restraint on public spending,” he said. “It’s not right for cabinet ministers to gang up on the chandler in this way.”

He said “austerity” was “just another world for living within ones means, it’s not really austerity”.

“Public sector pay is on average higher than in the private sector,” he added.

“People are talking about austerity as if its was issue of too many repeats on TV or [they] had got tired of watching Poldark and wanted a better program.”

Lord Lamont said just because it was believed “a lot of voters in the election objected to what is called austerity” it did not mean the government “must abandon it”.

There is also growing concern on the Tory backbenches about the pay cap. 

Conservative MP Maria Caulfield, a former nurse, said she had found the pay cap “extremely difficult” and most nurses worked extra shifts to make ends meet.

She told Today: “It’s a difficult, stressful, responsible job and if people aren’t paid enough so they can make ends meet they will go and do something else.

The warning came as new figures revealed the number of nurses and midwives leaving the profession has soared by 51% in just four years.