Candidates at the 2015 general election will come under pressure not to take a proposed 11 per cent pay rise for MPs after an impasse between party leaders and the body responsible for fixing parliamentary salaries.
Although many backbenchers want to accept the increase, which would raise their salaries from £66,396 to £74,000 after the election, they fear they will be pressured into refusing to take it if rival candidates say they will turn it down or give it to charity.
“We will end up with the worst of all worlds,” one senior Conservative MP said. “We will get all the bad headlines about a whopping increase but many of us will never see the money. Everyone will now be challenged about this at the election. If you are in a marginal seat and your main opponent pledges to refuse it, you will have to do the same.”
A final decision on the controversial plan appears to have been kicked into the long grass beyond the election. Ed Miliband promised that an incoming Labour Government would block the increase, a pledge that might give Labour candidates some protection in their constituency battles.
On Thursday the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) rejected a last-minute plea by David Cameron to think again about its reform package, insisting it would not cost taxpayers any more money because the one-off salary increase would be balanced by less generous pensions and expenses for MPs, including an end to provision for evening meals. “Resettlement payments” for MPs who leave Parliament will be available only to those who contest their seats and lose.
Sir Ian Kennedy, the chairman of Ipsa, said: “ For the first time, MPs' pay and pensions will be set independently, and away from political deals cooked up in Westminster. We are sweeping away the out-of-date and overly generous benefits, and introducing a one-off uplift in pay. Crucially, thereafter MPs' pay will be linked to everyone else's."
Sir Ian added: “We have designed these reforms so they do not cost the taxpayer a penny more.” He said Ipsa had saved the public more than £35m since 2010.
Ipsa said in its report: "We have a choice to make: either we say it is too difficult and ignore the issue for another number of years, or we address it with those sensitivities in mind. We choose the second option. We feel any other choice would be to abandon our responsibility, which Parliament gave us, to fix this problem once and for all.”
Although Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Nick Clegg all opposed the proposed salary hike, many backbenchers support it privately. Ipsa will review the proposal in the summer of 2015 before it is implemented. At that point, politicians would have to pass legislation to prevent the increase if Ipsa stuck to its guns.
There appears little chance that Ipsa will retreat. Sir Ian said: “This is a package, a package of reforms. You cannot unpick it. You can't say that bit we like and that bit we do not."
Mr Cameron repeated his thinly veiled threat to abolish Ipsa, saying he would not "rule out taking action " if it pressed ahead with the proposed rise. He told BBC Radio WM: "This isn't a final recommendation. They should think again and I very much hope they do. I don't rule out, and I don't think anyone rules out, taking action if they don't modify this proposal."
Mr Miliband said: "I want to be clear with the public, I don't think it's right that MPs should get this pay rise at a time when nurses, teachers, people in the private sector are going through a pay squeeze and facing incredibly difficult economic circumstances. I think it will just undermine trust in politics further. I'm determined that this pay rise does not go ahead if there's a Labour government.”
Mr Clegg insisted that Ipsa’s plan was "not cast in stone" and would be reviewed after the election. The Deputy Prime Minister opposed the idea of scrapping the authority. “ I would be very wary of turning the clock back and going back to the bad old days of MPs being judge and jury of their own pay and expenses all over again,” he told LBC 97.3.
Video: Ed Miliband against MP pay rise