Sunday, 7 July 2013

Taking a big pay rise could cost MPs public trust.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is to recommend that MPs be given a pay rise of up to £20,000 after the next election.

All of a sudden IPSA, an organisation not previously much loved by honourable members because it required the poor dears to file their expenses like ordinary mortals, is the toast of the house. In a YouGov survey carried out earlier this year two thirds of the MPs questioned said they were underpaid, they favoured raising their salary to £86,000; this is unlikely but thanks to the nice people at IPSA a rise to £75,000 looks likely.

Unless, of course something truly unlikely happens to derail the gravy train, like the party formerly known as Labour winning the next election. If that happens Ed Milliband has pledged to call on MPs to accept a rise of just 1%, adding a measly £850 to their salary.

This has hugely annoyed commons Speaker John Bercow who told the Mail on Sunday he didn’t want MPs pay used as a political football. He went on to say that party leaders mustn’t ‘do what they have always done, the generals have always abandoned the troops and engaged in a Dutch auction to appease the public by saying ‘well of course I won’t take a rise, I will tell my colleagues they shouldn’t take a rise.’

The cheek of it; politicians responding to public concerns and not feathering their own nests during a time of economic hardship; anyone would think this was a democracy.

In a rare moment of unity David Cameron and his minion Nick Clegg have both spoken out against a pay rise for MPs. The deputy prime minister told the public would find such a move ‘impossible to understand’ and that he ‘wouldn’t be able to support a recommendation like that.’

Speaking to the press during a trip to Pakistan David Cameron said the IPSA recommendations were, if correct, ‘unthinkable’; adding that ‘anything would be unthinkable unless the cost of politics was frozen and cut’ and that he had told IPSA that ‘restraint is necessary.’

Unfortunately for the reputation of politics in the UK the final decision about whether or not MPs get a pay rise doesn’t rest with the PM or any other party leader, something Nick Clegg alluded to in a soggy coda to his ringing denunciation of the IPSA proposals by saying it was ‘up to individual MPs to decide.’

This is a far from ideal situation, but also one that provided an opportunity for MPs to show their moral mettle. They could grab for the brass ring, take a rise to £75,000 and sacrifice public trust on the altar of instant gratification; or they could send a powerful message that they understand that politics isn’t about making money, it is about serving people.

As Nick Clegg the decision is down to individual MPs, it might, then, be interesting to require all sitting or prospective members of parliament to declare as a matter of public record how they would vote on the issue of their pay. If nothing else this would give a fascination insight into the moral health of the men and women we are electing to make our laws.

Labour’s death wish strikes again.

What should a party with a healthy lead in the polls and facing a government that is fast running out of time and ideas do?

In the case of the party formerly known as Labour it seems getting embroiled in an unseemly squabble about whether or not UNITE fixed the selection of a candidate to fight to Falkirk by-election is the favoured option. The resulting farrago has made the party look corrupt, its leadership look weak and driven the marriage of inconvenience between Labour and the unions another step closer to the divorce courts; result!

It isn’t unknown for selections to be rigged, in fact the New Labour wing of the party making pious noises in this instance have been known to do so themselves in the past. By referring the matter to the police Ed Milliband has made himself look weak and prone to overreaction, hardly the qualities a country looks for in its leader.

Most worryingly of all at a time when people are being battered by austerity the party that exists to speak up for the downtrodden is consumed with an internal squabble. This is something voters will neither forgive nor forget; mostly because Tory election strategists won’t allow them to.

And another thing

Egypt’s President Morsi has been deposed by the army after less than a year in power with violent upheaval likely to follow. Proof, if any were needed, that maintaining economic stability is more important to good governance than either religious or revolutionary fervour. It certainly suggests that the ‘Arab Spring’ is likely to turn out to be a darker story than we romantic western liberals imagined when it began in 2011.

Poor Laura Robson, the great hope of British women’s tennis was doing so well at Wimbledon; then disaster struck in the shape of a good luck message from David Cameron. Even more so than his predecessor in Downing Street an encouraging word from Citizen Dave seems to be the kiss of death, so much so that I’m told Tory Party election strategy for 2015 rests on our beloved leader sending not so Red Ed a tweet saying ‘hope everything goes well tomorrow’ on the eve of election day.

At least things went well for Andy Murray in the men’s final today. Despite having David ‘Jonah’ Cameron watching him from the Royal Box the scowling Scotsman became the first British player to win the tournament since Fred Perry way back in 1936. It is even rumoured that he was, albeit for a second or so, seen smiling; but it was probably just wind.

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