Express & Star

Andy Richardson: Monarch strikes right note but PM is off key

Charles III hit the right notes with his inaugural King’s Speech.

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Who’s leading who when it comes to empathy?

A man who paid tribute to his beloved mother, the late Queen Elizabeth II, and who praised the selfless workers who keep this country going, he showed a connection with the millions of families who are struggling.

Paying tribute to heroic workers – the very people we clapped from our doorsteps during Covid – and expressing his fears for those who are struggling to pay the bills, his was a speech full of empathy, kindness and support.

It takes more than that, of course, to put money in the meter, or to pay the monthly rent.

And, in the case of the public sector employees whom Charles III championed, it’s over to the Government to make ease that anxiety and make sure they can afford to pay the bills.

And so, perhaps, we should contrast the words of Charles with the deeds of those empowered to make a difference.

Steve Barclay, the man in charge of health, refuses to discuss pay with striking nurses.

Their recommended wage rise was set by an independent review body, he says, although the review body is formed by the Government, which also provides its terms of reference, so it isn’t really independent at all.

That review body created a recommendation before the cost of living soared, making it hopelessly out of date.

But Steve, bless him, won’t budge. Yet. He may well have to, for the nurses have public support from the majority of the general public, as well as the King.

Rishi Sunak is another who can make a difference and, just before Christmas, he organised a visit to a homeless shelter, where he dished out sausages, toast and fried eggs to those without a roof.

King Charles, for all his riches, showed empathy and understanding of their plight, in his Christmas Day speech. Rishi, gawd love him, asked a homeless guy whether he worked in finance.

It’s a bit like sticking Rishi on a busy bus so that he can ask a pensioner: ‘Do you still work on Wall Street?’

Or putting an Old Etonian investment banker and baronet in charge as his ethics advisor. Oh, what? He has. Sorry. Irony is dead. He’s like Boris Johnson without the jokes.

It’s not just the fact that Rishi looked totally out of his depth, at a time when King Charles was genuine and authentic, it’s also about the people around him and the choices they make.

Who decided a man in a cashmere jumper with a net worth of £730 million giving a homeless person a plate of sausages and eggs would make any sense to anyone?

Sunak is less incompetent than Boris Johnson. And, for that matter, he doesn’t have the ineptitude of Liz Truss – but then neither does a drunk ferret.

He is, however, arguably more right wing than either of them and his refusal to protect rail, transport, health and other public service workers from a substantial pay cut is, so he tells us, to help the nation avoid further inflation, driven by wages.

Except that’s a nonsense. UK public sector pay has risen by 2.7 per cent in the past year – while inflation is 11.1 per cent – which explains why there’s a cost of living crisis hitting those workers: they’ve suffered a collective fall in wages of 8.4 per cent.

And the independent pay review bodies haven’t taken any of that into account, which is why the Government is so keen to peg wage rises to those figures and why workers are resisting.

The impasse means we are losing more days to strike action for more than ten years.

Even Nigel Farage is speaking out about the difficulties, telling us: Britain is Broken.

That’s right, Nigel, congratulations on breaking it. Nigel, after all, successfully led the campaign for Brexit, which has cost us 5.5 per cent of our GDP, a fall of 11 per cent in investment and a fall of seven per cent in our good trade – or, in round numbers: a loss of tax revenues of £48 billion a year.

Funnily enough, that would be more than Rishi and Steve needed to pay public service workers a decent wage rise.