As Oliver Hardy would have said to Stan Laurel, “this is a fine mess you have got me into”. For MPs' pay it was ever thus, in the early 1970’s I had responsibility for MPs' pay and we tried to find a comparator salary in the civil service, that was impossible, and the only Prime Minster to accept an MPs' pay report and implement it was Ted Heath, even in spite of living in difficult times.
Margaret Thatcher settled it by saying she would never take it. The heart of the matter is that MP’s have to vote on their own pay conditions, which is not only embarrassing but principally wrong.
So after much arguing and the agony of the expenses debacle the job was given to IPSA and the understanding of their proposals would be accepted. What a neat solution but when the music stops they don’t want to be left with IPSA’s parcel which they have to accept. IPSA’s 9.6 per cent increase sits badly against a public sector squeeze on wages. Little wonder that all 3 party leaders overcome by righteousness indignation want to stop it. But many backbenchers think it is only fair.
Even though the 9.6 per cent will not increase government expenditure, since MP’s will lose gold plated pay offs and higher pensions contributions, politically it is simply not enough, they have to give more. In the private sector if you have an above average wage increase any manager would be looking to cut the staff, so what should happen now is that the size of the House of Commons should be cut from 650 MPs' to 600, that would save about £20 million. The central proposal of the Parliamentary Boundaries bill was abandoned when Nick Clegg in a fit of spite and piqué stopped supporting it because he couldn’t get his way with his House of Lords reform.
What the Prime Minster should do is to reintroduce the Parliamentary Boundaries bill and ask the House to pass it as this would be reducing the cost of politics which is something he wants to achieve and what the public wants. Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband will then have to decide whether they will want to support this popular measure. Decision time for firm government.
Lord Baker is a former Conservative Home Secretary