Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Underpaid? There’s little sympathy for MPs. And they can pay for their own tea

Sir Ian Kennedy seemed stolidly unmoved by the prevailing view. He said it was a ‘very good deal’

Ipsa chairman Sir Ian Kennedy’s Radio 5 phone-in with Victoria Derbyshire had run for the better part of an hour when Ian of Salford came on the line and announced: “I do think these proposals are very reasonable...” 

“Thank you, Ian,” said his namesake with palpable sincerity.

For a second we wondered crazily whether Ian of Salford was actually a pseudonymous MP  because, as he himself said, “the whole tone of the programme to date has been  that everyone’s against it”.

Certainly the majority of those calling in were not of (either) Ian’s view. Most listeners’ opinions, it’s fair to say, ranged from the outraged to the incredulous.

“What planet are these Ipsa people from in the first place?” asked the first caller, Steve from Merseyside.

 While assuring him that Ipsans  “live on this planet” (and are presumably from it, though he  did not actually say so), Sir Ian did not buy into Steve’s ingenious notion, which was that MPs should simply earn the national average wage (instead of 2.7 times as much) so  that they would then be “incentivised to raise the average working wage so the people of Britain would benefit”.  

 If one of the accusations against Sir Ian (part-time but on £700 per day) is that he has a tin ear on the public mood about MPs’ pay, to his credit he nevertheless deployed it by listening patiently to criticism after criticism.

But while one of his mantras was that “there is never a right time” for raising MPs’ pay, he seemed stolidly unmoved by the listeners’ prevailing view that some times for doing it are spectacularly wronger than others, and that this is one of them.

Sir Ian’s appeal was for the public to consider this “very good deal” in “the round”, taking into account the cuts in pensions and redundancy pay, and the ending of some perks such as free evening meals and “tea and biscuits” would mean that the net cost of the package would be a mere £500,000.

 But this argument hit a problem, crisply exemplified by Lloyd, a member of the armed forces whose pensions, he pointed out, had also been reformed “in a worse way” and yet had still been subjected to a pay freeze for the past three years. David Cameron had said: “We’re  all in  this together” and so it should be “until the country was back on  its feet”. 

 Even more brutally, Matt, a civil servant, asked: “Why are we not removing the expenses without requiring a pay increase?” He said that civil servants on £21,000 already have to buy their coffee and tea from their own pockets.

In terms that resonated long after  Sir Ian’s protest that this was only a minor part of the package, Matt added:  “That’s some jar of coffee if it’s going to require a pay increase of £7,000”.

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