MPs who take 11% pay rise can expect media witch-hunt
Outrage at £7,600 pay rise for backbenchers – but it's a one-off designed to end expenses culture
THE three party leaders, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, are on a loser if they think they can stop MPs taking an inflation-busting 11 per cent pay rise, the Mole’s snouts in the House of Commons trough have revealed.
There is outrage mixed with indignation across Fleet Street today at the prospect of MPs taking the increase – from £66,396 to £74,000 – when it kicks in after the 2015 general election, while most public sector workers are being held to rises of no more than one or two per cent, and millions face falling living standards.
And the tabloids have made it clear there'll be a witch-hunt to root out MPs who accept the rise. The Daily Mirror describes the proposed £7,600-a-year rise as a “scandal” and warns “woe betide” any MPs who take it.
The Sun tells MPs it would be “political suicide” to take the extra cash. "Every backbench MP should examine their conscience and be ready to answer this at election time: Did you trouser your 11 per cent or not?"
Only The Times has spoken up for the MPs, arguing that it is a one-off catch-up pay rise. “If we want the best quality representation then we cannot begrudge paying them properly.”
The Times is right in that the new pay figure, due to be announced this week, has been reached by IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority), brought in by Gordon Brown in 2009 to defuse the MPs’ expenses scandal and isolate Labour from it.
And IPSA's main task was to change the culture that had led so many MPs to treat expenses as an extra benefit to top up their relatively low salaries.
The cost to the taxpayer of the pay rise – £4.6 million a year – will be partially offset by a squeeze on MPs’ pensions and resettlement grants. The Times also reports that MPs will also lose their dinner allowance and claims for a second TV.
IPSA's own website says: “Our approach and rules are a clean break from the old system of self-regulation by MPs and the House of Commons. The new rules are fair to MPs and the public purse, workable and, crucially, transparent – anyone can go online and see what their MP has claimed for and what they are paid.”
After this one-off catch-up increase, MPs' pay will be raised in line with average earnings.
Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have all made it clear that they do not believe the MPs should take the rises, knowing that it will further alienate voters from all the main political parties in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said yesterday on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that the rise was “wholly inappropriate”.
But the Mole’s sources say he and his Cabinet colleagues are wasting their breath. “We can see why it’s unpopular but it’s definitely going to go through,” a senior Labour MP told me. “There will be some who will give the money to charity. That’s up to them.”
My source went on: “I know that many of our constituents don’t earn what we do. None of us our happy about this, but this is the rate for the job. We are going to have to put on our tin hats, and take the flak.”
The MPs do not have to vote on the rise, which IPSA will introduce automatically. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and shadow chancellor Ed Balls have both said they won’t take the increase. Others may or may not give the money to good causes.
But there is an argument that, bad timing aside, MPs need to be paid better. As Ben Brogan of the Daily Telegraph writes this morning, former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw and Tory David Ruffley are among the few MPs to suggest that the rise may have merits, with Straw suggesting that it could help with "recruitment from people of modest background".
Former Tory MP Paul Goodman, writing for ConservativeHome, says all this indignation at the pay rise is only likely to persuade more MPs to stand down in 2015. The risk, he says, is that "the Commons will shuffle a little further down the road to becoming the preserve of the fanatical, the rich and the union-funded. The ambitious will go in, become Ministers – and get out as fast as possible.”
Far from defusing the row over how much our MPs are worth, IPSA’s report looks set to degenerate into a nasty witch-hunt for the MPs who take the rise. ·