A better deal: MPs deserve a higher salary – and fewer perks


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The Independent Online

There will be no outpouring of public sympathy for Tobias Ellwood, the 48-year-old £89,435-a-year junior Foreign Office minister who complained in a letter to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that “I never expected to be watching the pennies at my age and yet this is what I now have to do. I was in the armed forces where, had I stayed in, I would be earning far more than I am now.”

Poor Mr Ellwood can reflect ruefully that he is the victim of decades of political cowardice. During the economic crisis of the early 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s government, fearful of the public reaction if MPs voted themselves a generous pay rise, agreed to allow a more generous expenses regime for them in return for suppressing their salaries.

Nearly 30 years later, the hidden system of using expenses as a top-up for salaries exploded in a scandal that has done lasting damage to the reputation of British politicians.

In the near panic that followed, the House of Commons agreed that the expenses binge was over, and delegated the entire responsibility for MPs’ pay and expenses to an outside body, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).

It is Ipsa that is now telling the MPs that  their pay is going to go up by 10 per cent, at  a time of government-imposed austerity and when all public sector pay rises are limited to  1 per cent.

It is terrible politics, but not an intrinsically bad decision. A complex democracy needs good legislators. An MP’s basic pay of £67,060 a year before the pay rise may look like riches to someone on a low wage, but there are a great many MPs who, like Mr Ellwood, could earn more by changing jobs.

The principle that they be well paid, but only get back through expenses what they genuinely pay out in the line of duty, is right.