If we truly value democratic politics, then we must say MPs deserve their pay rise

I can understand some of the disillusionment, but too much of it is baseless

Share

The focus on MPs is always intense when they are offered a pay rise or are accused of fiddling their expenses. There is virtually no debate about their role as elected representatives. It is easy to cry “greedy bastards” and move on, but what do we want them to do when they get to parliament, beyond not getting paid very much? The question is rarely asked.

The context of their proposed 11 per cent pay rise is darkly comic. The offer comes from the independent parliamentary watchdog IPSA, a body largely loathed by MPs. For much of the time IPSA is on to them as if they were naughty schoolchildren. Now in complete contrast, IPSA proposes such a big pay rise that some MPs feel compelled to express shock and horror, as if Scrooge has turned into Santa Claus on crystal meth.

The Cabinet will state they will not take the rise. I bet the Shadow Cabinet will declare the same, although most of them get no additional income for their frontbench duties. Such fearful declarations of course are largely symbolic. The rise will not come into effect until after the election when the Shadow Cabinet might form the Cabinet and vice versa. Still they are all terrified of being associated with the rise. And yet the whole explosive issue of pay was transferred to IPSA in order to avoid any further anger about MPs awarding themselves a rise. Even from an independent source, previously known for its Calvinistic rigidity, prominent MPs are too scared to accept the offer.

In fact I believe they should take the rise – one that would give MPs a salary of £74,000 after the election. The move would be a one-off leap and would be followed by far smaller rises in the future. The leap is necessary if we value democratic politics. Whenever people say to me they do not trust any politician and that they are all the bloody same, I ask them what they would prefer as an alternative to elected politicians. I have never heard a coherent response.

I can understand some of the disillusionment. There are some great, exciting, dynamic, articulate MPs but far too many are mediocre. Several party leaders, past and present, have told me they struggle to find the talent from the parliamentary pool to fill their front benches. Of course part of the problem with modern politics is that a leaders’ definition of sparkling talent is total loyalty – a Tory MP who worships at the altar of Cameron/Osborne’s reheated Thatcherism, or a Labour MP who can utter the phrase “cost of living crisis” in every sentence as if they were a robot.

But another very big part of the problem is that it is completely taboo for leaders to suggest that part of an MP’s job description is to be a figure big enough to devise and implement national policies and become a powerful advocate for them. Instead the qualifications are increasingly related to connections with a constituency and a tireless commitment to the local area.

On one level the number of independent-minded Tory MPs elected in the 2010 intake is impressive – backbenchers who care more about speaking for their constituents than they do about becoming a minister. Equally it is a noble ambition to become a social worker, which is how some MPs proudly describe their role to me. Recently I asked a former MP and cabinet minister – now in a much better paid job outside politics – about the main differences. He said that it was almost impossibly demanding to be a cabinet minister and then return to the constituency at weekends to deal with a mountain of local issues, pointing out that in France ministers are spared the additional responsibilities of constituency work.

This would never happen here because the connection with the constituency is so highly prized. But the emphasis on the local comes at the expense of the need for MPs to address national responsibilities. Leading, governing, opposing, communicating, advocating, winning elections are increasingly dependent on a small number of MPs on either side who are seen as up  to the job.

This marks a big shift in a short time. In the 1980s Neil Kinnock was widely condemned as being weak when he had no powers to intervene in the selection of candidates, and strong when he took measures to acquire a degree of control. Similarly in 1997 John Major was dismissed as weak when he could not remove the controversial Neil Hamilton as the Conservatives’ candidate in Tatton. Now if a leader seeks to have a say in the selection of candidates they are seen as control freaks, not least by their local party memberships. Yet in any other field, leaders would have a big say in who might be joining them in a national project of significance.

Do we want local social workers or national politicians or can we have  both? Let us spend more time debating what we want from MPs and less moaning about the cost  of democratic  politics.

Balls is tough but the traps are plenty

The storm arising from Ed Balls’ response to last Thursday’s Autumn Statement is of peripheral significance. The shadow Chancellor remains by a very wide margin the only MP on Labour’s side who can navigate the nightmarishly tough terrain in which politics meets economics.

The terrain is thorny  for any shadow Chancellor. Most do not last for  long in the post. In  recent times only  Gordon Brown and  George Osborne have stayed the course. Both were the subjects of scathing internal and external criticism.

Balls is tough enough to withstand the lofty attacks from those who have  given little thought to economic policy and how  to project it in what is a largely hostile media environment.

The much bigger story from last Thursday is Osborne’s confirmation that he plans to cut deeply for years to come. The Chancellor is often seen only as a political game player, but he is also ideological.

He believes in a smaller state and has asserted that public services can be better with much lower levels of spending. This  is a dangerous fantasy, but  it is one that Labour struggles to challenge in opposition.

Balls is already committed to sticking  to Osborne’s early current spending plans for the  next parliament, but somehow or other needs to find the space to avoid pledging support for  cuts that apply as far  away as 2019.

He needs to do so  without falling into Osborne’s highly visible but still daunting “tax and spend” trap – one of many reasons why the job is impossibly tough.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting

£400 - £550 per day: Orgtel: Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting ...

Lead Application Developer

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am current...

Senior Networks Architect

£65000 per annum + 15% Pension, Health, Travel & Bonus: Progressive Recruitmen...

SAP BW/BO Consultant

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW/BO CONSU...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

How silly of me to assume it was Israeli bombs causing all the damage in Gaza

Mark Steel
 

Careful, Mr Cameron. Don't flirt with us on tax

Chris Blackhurst
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices