It got buried by the avalanche of other news burying the Government this week, but on Monday we got a slew of stories which basically saw politicians on all sides desperately trying to fend themselves off from that most lethal of reefs: a pay rise.
Boris Johnson took time out from ‘Partygate’ to urge the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to show “restraint” when it makes its imminent recommendations. Sir Keir Starmer likewise let it be known that MPs should not, in his view, get a pay rise.
It isn’t difficult to see why this might be a bad time, politically speaking. As the Daily Telegraph notes, any rise would come into effect alongside the incoming hike in National Insurance contributions – not to mention the anticipated cost-of-living crisis as rising fuel prices start to bite.
But the phrase ‘bad time’ implies the existence of a ‘good time’, and such is the corrosive extent of public cynicism towards politicians that there will never be a good time to increase their pay.
Indeed, listen in to any call-in show for long enough and one will probably encounter someone suggesting that their pay should be slashed. If however much a year is good enough for nurses/teachers/insert-as-appropriate, why not for our lords and masters too?
Yet to whatever extent public anger at the political class is justified, these attitudes do create a vicious circle. Whilst there will always be people prepared to take a major pay cut for the sake of public life, there is no reason to expect the general rule that the level of remuneration on offer affects the calibre of the applicants not to apply to politics.
This dynamic probably also helps to explain why, as our editor has noted in the past, there is a much higher level of ‘churn’ for MPs than has historically been the case, with more people choosing to leave the Commons after a few terms rather than treating the role as a vocation for life.
And there doesn’t seem to be a way out. Handing over control of parliamentary pay to IPSA in the aftermath of the expenses scandal was supposed to draw the sting from the process, in light of the fact that the expenses system was no longer being used as a way of delivering de facto rises. But every time they do so, plenty of MPs seem to feel compelled to denounce it or turn it down.
Likewise, whilst Johnson scarcely deserves much sympathy for ‘wallpapergate’, there is a point to be made about both how the most senior members of our government are paid considerably less than their counterparts in many other western democracies, and how in those countries having a budget for the renovation of residences and other official buildings is accepted as part and parcel of maintaining the ‘dignity of the state’.
Unfortunately, given the way things are going it will likely be a very long time before this is a case anyone in government feels inclined to make.