The Ipsa proposals on MPs’ pay need sober consideration, not the posturing coming from all sides of Parliament. These proposals are vital to move the pay of our representatives away from the world where people pay themselves as little as possible, to reduce their tax liabilities, to the world where most of us live, where you are taxed as per the tax codes on your true earnings.
The country has become increasingly characterised by two large blocs within the working population. One is the traditional paid worker, who throughout their working life, enjoys a simple if unspectacular remuneration, sometimes with the occasional bonus, but in essence paying taxes on all earnings. Typically, this group is the butt of attacks from the right, enjoying as they do (or did), cushy pensions and easy, undemanding jobs, often in the public sector.
Then there are the wealth-creators of right-wing mythology, of the self-employed variety. This group, albeit when established and relatively successful, are able to “expense” through their businesses many of the essentials of life that the rest of us have to pay fo0r through taxed income: travel, hotels, children’s iPads and mobile phones, and home running costs of every kind. They divide their income with a spouse, who may play no part in the business in reality, again to reduce the tax they pay.
Our parliamentary representatives have lived in this latter world, often their MP’s salary is not their primary source of income, and the lower it is, and the higher the expenses, the better off they have been.
It’s high time something was finally done to address this, and Ipsa’s proposals are a step in the right direction.
At the time of the Falklands War, an MP earned exactly the same as a mid-seniority army major. The major had served at least a decade before reaching that level of pay, the MP had it from day one. Since then, any equality has disappeared as successive parliaments have given themselves rises that the rest of us can only dream of.
This latest 11 per cent increase will push an MP’s salary £20,000 higher than that of today’s army major. Is there a single MP who believes he can justify this difference?
In the recent discussion on the MPs’ proposed salary increase, much has been made (by Ipsa) of the point that it is part of a package which includes reduced pension benefits.
However, the reduced pensions proposed are still six times more generous than the annuity rates on offer to citizens working in private enterprise. I would strongly urge MPs to spend a little time pursuing the appalling annuity rates on offer in the private sector as highlighted (again recently) by the Financial Services Consumer Panel before they sort their own pay and conditions out.
My Year Ten son came home from school the other day raging about the English assessment he had been set. It was on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and he was furiously disappointed with his school, which is an Academy with a very good Ofsted report.
Having watched Baz Luhrman’s film of the play for a week, yesterday he was handed a photocopied booklet with short extracts from four scenes from the play. He put his hand up and asked, “When are we going to read the play?” The answer was, “We aren’t. There’s not time.”
In Year Eight, my son studied Shakespeare in the same school. The play? Romeo and Juliet. “Well, we skimmed parts of it,” he says.
So when he finishes his GCSEs he will have studied less than an eighth of one Shakespeare play. “How will I be ready for A-level or university?” he asked. How could I reassure him? He won’t.
The saddest part is that in many ways I understand his teachers’ actions. I’m sure they didn’t train to be English teachers to short-change their students and to fillet English literature to a meaningless pile of bones, but the combined pressure of school league tables and appraisal procedures makes them desperate to take the straightest route to exam success.
On the other hand, I am deeply disappointed that they succumb to those pressures. But whether I should be most angry at Ofsted and the Department of Education or his teachers and his school is in a way irrelevant – between them they have failed my son, his classmates, and Shakespeare too.
Name and address not supplied
Christmas lockdown amazes foreigners
We wanted to attend a service at St Paul’s Cathedral on Christmas Day, but when we googled Transport for London we discovered that there is no public transport on the day. No tube, bus, tram; not even a Eurostar train out of the country. It will be too far for us to walk into town and taxis are too expensive
When I informed my niece in Germany about this, she emailed me back asking: “Are they crazy? How do they get from A to B at Christmas?” Answer: without cars, they don’t.
Neighbouring European countries put on extra services at this time, recognising that many people need to travel across town or farther afield during this public holiday. Britain just forces its population on to the roads, or to stay at home.
Further internet search uncovered many panicked or incredulous messages from foreign visitors who had no idea that they would be stuck for 48 hours. I wonder how badly tourism is affected by this lockdown.
Looking forward to the newsletters
Among the more recent seasonal traditions, the one I most look forward to is the annual slagging-off of the Christmas family newsletter. How good to see it adhered to in your letters column once again this year. I enjoy the tradition almost as much as I do receiving the letters. To all their detractors I would simply offer a sincere and hearty “Up Yule!”
Pickles’ bid to censor local councils
My response to Eric Pickles’ proposed code of conduct for councils’ publications is “How dare he?” This is an outrageous interference with local democracy. Local government has been undermined since the Thatcher era, but this proposal is unbelievable for its barefaced cheek.
End of the war to end war
If we really have to find something to celebrate as a centenary of the First World War, would it not be more appropriate to wait until 2018 and celebrate the end of the war instead of its beginning?
Dire results of fundamentalism
No explanation of the actions of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who killed Fusilier Lee Rigby, is complete without mentioning that Islam prioritises war more than any other worldwide faith (if we except Marxism).
Unfortunately this was not an invention of al-Qa’ida. What the Quran actually says, among other things, is: “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. . . But if they repent. . . let them go their way” (9:5) and “Fight in the way of God with those who fight you, but aggress not” (2: 186). The Bible also has God giving the Israelites “the land of all the peoples that I have wiped out” (Joshua 23:4).
The emphasis on holy war in traditional Islam can be explained by saying it had to contend with two military empires (and the Byzantine-Roman empire was more persecuting than the pagan Roman empire had been). Such texts are now, not unreasonably, usually taken to mean no more than reasonable self-defence. These problems are peculiar to text-based revealed religions, in particular the Abrahamics.
However, we should not fail to notice that it is easier for a Muslim fanatic to claim, however spuriously, scriptural justification for violent acts than it is for a Christian fanatic.
School of Humanities
University of Dundee
Your item “UK evangelist says Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ ” (19 December) appeared on the same day that two Muslims were found guilty of the barbaric and savage murder of Lee Rigby.
Fundamentalism in the forms seen in these cases is nothing more than a blind adherence to a narrow, ignorant and anti-intellectual reading of their respective holy books, which is not shared by the main stream of either faith. How right it was of the leaders of Islam in this country to express themselves so forcefully against the action of these two men, and of the Bishop of Chichester to denounce the Christian evangelist and her reported support for anti-gay laws in Jamaica.
Such opinions and actions serve only to increase the number of atheists and cause Christian and Muslim leaders further headaches.
Dr Michael B Johnson
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