July 2, 2013 6:52 pm
The attempt by Britain’s political establishment to take the politics out of MPs’ pay has backfired. Parliamentarians from the three main parties are rushing to denounce a suggestion by the independent body charged with setting their pay packets that they deserve to earn more. Yet in surrendering to populist headlines, Westminster is doing British politics and the electorate a grave disservice.
The arguments against mooting a pay increase right now are evident. It is politically difficult to try to justify higher wages for the very politicians who are asking everyone else to make sacrifices on pay and public services. A survey by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) showed that most people believe MPs are already overpaid at the current £66,396. However, the survey also revealed a deep ignorance of what an MP’s job actually is. After discussion, the general assessments of a politician’s worth increased.
Public trust in the political class was seriously dented by the expenses scandal that led to the creation of Ipsa in 2009. Yet it was the failure of successive governments to address the pressing question of MPs’ pay that encouraged a perversion of the expenses system in the first place. This system has been reformed. But Britain’s MPs remain woefully rewarded compared with other western countries. Over recent years, their pay has lost value in real terms and in comparison to other professions such as doctors or headteachers.
The British public wants a better class of politician. But if the right candidates are to be drawn to public service, where the hours are gruelling and public scrutiny nonstop, they will have to be valued as we value those who care for our health or our children’s education.
A pay rise should not come without qualifications, however. Parliamentarians have rightly attacked bankers who are rewarded regardless of performance. Yet they should not be exempt from greater scrutiny of how they carry out their mandates.
David Cameron, prime minister, is also right that an increase should only be considered if the cost of politics is reined in. Coalition bickering put paid to the chance to streamline Britain’s legislature with boundary changes. This should be revived for the next parliament. Generous pension provisions should also be revised.
Agreeing to award MPs higher wages may be difficult in the current economic climate. But in the longer term, to deny a fair increase to MPs would be to short-change British democracy itself.
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