It has often been said that there is no perfect time for an increase in MPs’ pay. If that is true then surely now would be the most imperfect time. All MPs who are doing their job to any percentage of excellence know that our constituents are feeling very concerned for the future. Any spare money they have is going into repairing domestic debt and yet with rising petrol prices, food costs and utility bills not that many have much spare money at all.
So this week with the backdrop of Conservative tearing lumps out of Labour on cash and influence and Labour responding by attacking the Conservatives on funding from business we may see the independent body responsible for setting MPs pay recommend a £10,000 pay increase. Leaving aside for a moment whether it is warranted what exactly would this be saying to the public? Can we seriously on the one hand say that we need public sector pay restraint (the private sector is largely self-frozen), that we must all make sacrifices to repair the economy and reduce the deficit if at the same time we accept a large increase to our basic pay?
What is really starting to alarm me is the massive disconnect between the arguments that are being played out here in Westminster and the worries of the public in the country.
The tribal battles may be good for the morale of partisan participants but they are surely toxic for the reputation of politics and politicians. Too many of the political class still do not seem to understand the herculean task that is still to be done to restore public confidence in politics in the aftermath of the expenses scandal. Yet the verbal equivalent of fist fights on party funding and outside earnings must leave a public quietly focused on their own daily lives and challenges quietly perplexed if not bloody angry. We cannot ask or earn the public’s trust if we cannot speak up for the political process or attempt to attribute malign motives to our opponents.
We will have to await the terms of the IPSA announcement on MPs pay. Yet the leaks seem to be reinforced by comments of some figures in IPSA. A £10,000 pay increase to be more than offset by a change to the pension arrangements. Indeed it would appear that even if the whole pay increase were put into the pension the benefit would still be less. So we are asked to accept a headline pay increase that most members of the public would find eye watering and an overall package that would be worse than now. One has to wonder if the errant genius or malice on the part of IPSA.
I fear tomorrow’s announcement could reignite public anger and fuel further disengagement from politics. There is a debate to be had on how MPs should be paid. It should be had when we are in better economic times. If IPSA do not show sensitivity to public sentiment then they will have proved themselves unworthy of the trust Parliament has placed in them.
This is shaping up to be a pretty bad week for politics in Britain and the people are the losers.
Conor Burns is Conservative MP for Bournemouth West.