If MPs vote on their own pay, there is a race to the bottom – or is that to the top? – as voter-and-media-petrified ones, especially in marginal seats, rush for the cameras and studios to declare that they will vote against a rise.
If MPs do not vote on their own pay, there is a race to the top – or is that to the bottom? – as voter-and-media-petrified ones, especially in marginal seats, rush for the cameras and studios to declare that they won’t take a rise.
And so it is that MPs pay gradually falls in real terms, the restrictions on their outside earnings introduced under Gordon Brown remain, and the Commons moves towards becoming the preserve of the mad, the rich, and those incapable of doing anything else.
Thankfully, as this site’s study of the new Conservative intake in safe seats suggests, the rich in this instance – or, to be more accurate, the better-off – are by and large the self-sacrificing, able, and public-spirited better-off, which is all to the good. But it scarcely makes for a representative chamber.
There are only two routes out of this impasse.
The first is to decide that being an MP is a job, declare that this is inconsistent with them doing other jobs – including being a Minister – and raise their pay to well above the £74,000 proposed. MPs would thus formally become the professional politicians that everyone complains about.
The second is to decide that being an MP is not a job, remove some of the restrictions that suppress outside earnings, and freeze the pay, with a view to cutting it as outside earnings increase. MPs would thus return to being citizen representatives – like local councillors.
I support the latter option, as part and parcel of a package that would see the Commons sit less and pass less legislation, and gradually produce MPs whose focus is on mastering national issues rather than on acting as local councillors – the role they have increasingly been pushed into assuming.
You may disagree. But that’s the choice one way or the other, unless you believe that MPs shouldn’t earn any money at all from anywhere…which would duly confine membership of the lower house to those who inherit it.
However, a decision has not been made, either by MPs or anyone else. So the means by which Government and Parliament have addressed the problem is to have a review, not have a vote, raise the pay – and get the whole business over early so that voters forget about it by 2020.
This enables the Government both formally to oppose the pay rise while not formally objecting to it – which it could do by submitting a case against the rise to IPSA, which has decided that MPs should have it.
Sleight-of-hand? Of course. And exactly what I would do were I David Cameron, trapped between angry voters and frustrated backbenchers, and possessing all the while a slender Commons majority of only 12.