Yes, let’s pay our MPs more - but not 10 per cent more in one go

This is the moment to re-define what we expect of our elected representatives

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The Independent Online

In a weekend dominated by the Yes clan taking the poll lead in Scotland, a story slipped out that on another weekend might have caused an outraged frothing of the mass media mouth.

Next year, MPs’ pay looks set to increase from £67,000 p/a to £74,000 p/a in two installments under plans approved by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) this week, that were first proposed last year.

Back then, the three main party leaders all spoke out against the rise as “unacceptable” at a time when the rest of the public sector was being awarded a one per cent increase. That’s the level MPs are due to get in April 2015, with the additional increase due a month later to bring their salary into a bracket that might make a career as an MP more attractive.

Bear with me, dear reader, before you start frothing yourself, but while disagreeing with the timing and the amount, I don’t actually disagree with the sentiment. We agree surely that we want MPs to be drawn from among the best and brightest of us? For that to happen, the salary has to be competitive with other aspirational careers.

But, you say, surely public service is at the heart of what being an MP is about? So, are public service and an attractive wage mutually exclusive? That said, no MP goes into politics to get rich. 

“If you pay peanuts you get monkeys” is the lament of many MPs privately, because if they were to express such a thought in public, they would be crucified. Memories of the expenses scandal, duck houses and all, are just too raw. We simply no longer trust our elected officials.

Foolishly, the Africa minister Mark Simmonds voiced just such a thought publicly when he announced his resignation as an MP last month because of the “intolerable pressure” the job placed on family life. This, despite the £28,000 a year to rent a London home that Mr Simmonds was entitled to claim as a married father of three.

Now, outside of London (and to many Londoners), that 67k plus 28k is a hell of a lot of money, but you have to live in the capital  to know what he means – however nonsensical it first appears. Also, to be fair, he was surely not talking about salary alone, but the MPs’ ridiculous working hours.

He’s right. It is the structure of Parliament and how it conducts business that needs urgent reform. Let’s have longer sessions, perhaps mirroring the school year. Let’s have them sit four days a week - with the fifth devoted to constituencies. Let’s have minimum quorums for attendance, and individual performance targets too. Only then might the public accept that there is a genuine need to improve MPs’ pay.

Because, right now, in the same week we read of a chronic shortage of teachers (particularly in London, where the starting salary is £27,543; England and Wales £22,023) the idea that of all public-sector workers, MPs alone deserve a 10 per cent rise in one go is laughable to the point of being beyond satire. It is also political poison. We appear to be in a Catch-22 situation,  where the only way to stop the rise is for Parliament to take back from Ipsa the decision on how it pays itself. And that truly would be political suicide.