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Would easing the public sector pay cap be the start of a slippery slope for the Treasury?

The Chancellor could find himself continually doling out extra cash to head off rebellions.

To defeat Jeremy Corbyn, you must become him. That appears to be the conclusion that the Cabinet has reached over the weekend. Damian Green used his address to the Conservative think tank Bright Blue to call for  "a national debate" over the future of tuition fees. (However, aides have clarified the remarks, saying that Corbyn got away with promising to cut fees without really having to defend his planned tax increases, and that is the "debate" that must be had.)

The Conservatives are taking something of a Corbynite turn, however: Michael Gove told the Sunday Times' Tim Shipman that the public sector pay cap should be lifted. Boris Johnson has stuck his oar in too, saying that he supports a lifting of the cap, provided it is done in a "responsible way".

"Cabinet split over austerity tax row" is the Telegraph's splash. Except the Cabinet isn't split, not really. A list of ministers who are for continuing the pay freeze would start with "Philip" and end with "Hammond".

Also pressing the case for more cash is Justine Greening, who wants £1.2bn in extra funding for schools in order to cancel the coming cuts to education.

It's difficult for the Treasury – on the one hand, Theresa May's disappointing election result means that their nightmare of being hobbled by Downing Street has been headed off at the pass. On the other hand, panic at the near-death experience of the election means that everyone wants a little extra cash. (That these sums are so easily packaged as "the DUP plus a spare Nigel Dodds" by the opposition is only going to add to the clamour for more spending.)

There's also the risk that, in these times of no majority, the Treasury finds itself continually doling out extra cash to head off rebellions. A little extra money to allow Northern Irish women to access their reproductive rights here. Easing of the pay cap there. These aren't big sums as far as the government's total expenditure goes, but they all make the Budget harder and make it less and less likely that Hammond's scrapping of the Autumn Statement will last very long.

The danger for the Conservatives is that if they endure a summer of discontent from public sector workers and continuing pressure on pay thanks to the cap, as well as the fall in the value of the pound, then that doesn't exactly communicate that they have "got the message" and only helps Labour. But if the Chancellor is seen to have lost control of public spending, that hurts the Conservative brand, too.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.