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UK Politics

The Westminster party's over, Cameron tells MPs

An incoming Conservative government would cut the cost of politics by £120m a year to give a lead to the rest of the public sector, David Cameron promised yesterday.

Ministerial salaries would be reduced by 5 per cent and frozen until the following general election to save £250,000 a year; spending on the 170-strong fleet of ministerial cars would be reduced by one-third; and MPs would lose their subsidised food and drink in the Houses of Parliament to save £5.5m a year.

The Tory leader confirmed he would cut the number of MPs by 10 per cent at the following election, from 650 to 585, to save an estimated £15.5m a year. Labour claims the move would permanently deprive it of 20 Commons seats. The Tories insist Labour is over-represented at present because of the way parliamentary boundaries are drawn in the Labour-dominated cities and the Tories' rural heartlands.

"With the Conservatives, the gravy train will well and truly hit the buffers," Mr Cameron announced in a speech in London. "I want to make clear: under a Conservative government, far from politicians being exempt from the age of austerity, they must show leadership. And leadership is about doing, not just telling."

He admitted that the £500m-a-year cost of Parliament was only a "pinprick" in terms of total public spending, and that his planned savings would not solve the debt crisis at a time when the Government would borrow £175bn in the current year.

Mr Cameron said: "This is about more than the money. It's about the message. And the message is this. This country is in a debt crisis. We must all now come together, play our part, carry our burden and pay our fair share. And that starts at the very top – with politicians cutting the cost of politics."

The Tory leader accused Labour of wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on "a cushy lifestyle for politicians", citing their gold-plated pensions, subsidised food, official cars and new payments such as the £10,000-a-year "communications allowance" for MPs, which the Tories would abolish to save £5m annually.

"Last year, it cost £500m to run Parliament. That's twice as much as it did in 1997. And has it really got twice as good?" Mr Cameron asked.

He pointed out that there were now 169 ministerial posts with salaries ranging from £26,624 to £132,923. "It's only right, at a time like this, that they make a sacrifice. So we will cut all ministerial salaries – that's the money they get on top of their MPs' salary – by an immediate 5 per cent. This means a pay cut of £6,500 for the prime minister and a £4,000 pay cut for cabinet ministers," he said.

The parliamentary authorities would be asked to deliver a 10 per cent reduction in refreshment department costs, he announced. "Walk into a bar in Parliament and you buy a pint of Fosters for £2.10," he said. "That's a little over half as much as in a normal London pub. And in the restaurants on the parliamentary estate, you can treat yourself to a 'Lean salad of lemon and lime-marinated roasted tofu with baby spinach and rocket, home-roasted plum tomatoes and grilled ficelle crouton' for just £1.70."

Mr Cameron said: "If there is something that really annoys people it's seeing politicians swanning around in chauffeur-driven cars like they're the Royal Family. There are times when having a car to hand... is absolutely vital to our democratic process. But there is no need for 171 of these cars to be on hand for every government minister, whip – and indeed, myself."

Perks of the job: Life in the Commons

Pay A rank and file MP has a basic salary of £64,766. A committee chairman is paid £79,132. A Cabinet minister is paid £141,866.

Pensions Unlike almost everyone else, MPs still enjoy a final salary pension scheme, which is worth half their final salary after 20 years' service, and more if they stay longer.

Severance MPs who lose their seats or stand down at an election can claim up to £42,068 as a "winding up allowance" to cover the cost of closing down their offices and a "resettlement grant" that varies between 50 and 100 per cent of their salary to help them adjust to life outside the Commons.

Communications allowance MPs can claim up to £10,400 for conducting surveys or sending newsletters, etc, to constituents. David Cameron says he would scrap this.

Travel MPs can claim for fares by public transport and 40p a mile if they drive their own cars on parliamentary business. Their staff, spouses and children under 18 can also claim some travel allowances.

Cheap food All the cafés and restaurants in Parliament are subsidised. Mr Cameron cited a "lean salad of lemon and lime marinated roasted tofu with baby spinach and rocket, home-roasted plum tomatoes and grilled ficelle crouton" costing just £1.70.

Subsidised bars As Mr Cameron pointed out, in Parliament a pint of Fosters costs £2.10, about half what it costs in a normal London pub. Not only that but licensing laws do not apply in Parliament, where drink is sold without a licence.