Andy McSmith's Diary: It’s hard being an MP and getting the flak for a pay rise that never comes

What really annoys MPs is that the executives at Ipsa who control their salary are so much better paid

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Indy Politics

One reason many MPs so resent feeling the hot blast of public anger over the proposal to hike their pay by £10,000 a year is that it is not their idea. It comes from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, over which they have no control. So they cop the backlash, while knowing in their hearts that a pay rise on that scale is not going to happen.

They are also feeling the effect of a drop in their living standards since Ipsa took control of their pay and expenses. They are not only claiming less in expenses but their salaries have shrunk in real terms in the past four years. If their annual pay had kept pace with inflation since 2009, it would have gone above £75,500 this year, but four successive below-inflation rises have brought the actual figure to £66,396.

However, looking at what has happened to MPs’ pay in the past century, they are still higher-paid than they ever were, up until about 20 years ago.

In 1911, an MP’s annual salary was £400, which, according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, would be equivalent to £39,900 in 2012: less than two-thirds of their current salary.

Their salaries fell further during the depression of the 1930s and the war. In 1964, the incoming Labour government boosted it up to a figure equivalent to around £56,000 at today’s prices, but during the 1970s, inflation pushed it back down to the equivalent of where it was in the 1930s. It was not until 1997 that MPs could truly be said to have been paid as well as they are today. Their pay carried on rising until 2009.

But what really annoys MPs is that the executives at Ipsa who control their salaries are so much better paid. Ipsa’s chairman, Sir Ian Kennedy, gets £700 a day for working what is usually a two-day week.

Board members are paid £400 a day. Ipsa’s chief executive is on a salary of more than £105,000, and it even has a director of communications who is paid more than £85,000. Being an MP is not so financially rewarding as being in charge of putting out press releases about MPs’ pay.

Harry Potter? Cameron is only a one-trick wizard

David Cameron was quite wrong to say that, though he would like to be Harry Potter, others might think of him as…well, the Prime Minister knew enough about JK Rowling’s books not to utter the name of He Who Must Not be Named.

“My daughter is nine years old, she’s just started to read all the Harry Potter books so I’m sort of rediscovering them all over again,” he said in Kazakhstan.

“I can think of all sorts of characters you don’t want to be and I suppose in the end you know if you’ve got any sense you want to be Harry Potter. I suspect people in Britain might want to paint me in a different role but I’ll let them do that.”

The Prime Minister does himself an injustice. No one could equate the Prime Minister with that bald villain immortalised in film by Ralph Fiennes. There is another character, though, with a strong resemblance to David Cameron, and that is Gilderoy Lockhart, played by Kenneth Branagh, a man of great surface charm and plausibility, a celebrity feted as one of the greatest wizards of his time, when actually his only skill is to cast memory charms that make people remember events not as they happened, but as he wants them remembered.

In the denouement, Lockhart attempts to cast a spell that will give Harry Potter and Ron Weasley a false memory of him courageously rescuing them from the evil one. Had the spell worked, no doubt they would also have remembered that Lockhart rescued the economy from the mess inherited, renegotiated the terms of EU membership, and turned the Conservative Party into the Nice People’s Party – but it backfired and Lockhart went into early retirement, unable to remember who he was.

Taking preparation just a little too far

A certain amount of vetting and stage management goes on behind any session in which members of the public question a political leader, but it is seldom as blatant as at the Cameron Direct event arranged by his Kazakh hosts on Monday. British hacks travelling with the Prime Minister were surprised to come upon a press release which revealed the questions Cameron was asked – before the event had begun.

Nursultan Nazarbayev has been President of Kazakhstan since before the break-up of the old Soviet Union. Tony Blair has been working with him on human rights to help dispel the idea that he is the sort of communist-style dictator who would insist on an event such as this being rigidly controlled in every detail.

Accountants apply for good times

Into even the most upright lives there must come a time for relaxation. Westminster Council is considering applications from the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy and the National Audit Office for licences to serve alcohol at their London offices. An explanatory note on CIPFA’s application vouchsafes that “the licence, if approved, will cover the serving of limited amounts of alcohol at business meetings. Typically, this might be wine and canapés…” Wine, canapé and shop talk with accountants working in the public sector! Wow, sounds wild.

Streep’s absorption in the Iron Lady

Michael Simkins, a British actor whose numerous roles include a minor part in The Iron Lady, a drama based on Margaret Thatcher’s twilight years, has a book out this week entitled The Rules of Acting, in which he reveals that Meryl Streep continued her superb impersonation of the former Prime Minister even when the cameras stopped rolling. “Do excuse me,” she reportedly explained, “but if I drop Thatcher’s voice, I’ll never get the bloody thing back.”