We can’t have it both ways on MPs pay

By Alex Bryan

In Britain, the popularity of politicians has been declining for a number of years. Since the expenses scandal though, it has become a sadly consistent fact of political life that voters have little but contempt for those who ostensibly run the country. A general election has happened and a significant amount of time has passed since the scandal, but the idea has very much become entrenched. The public hates politicians.

IPSA, then, must have known what the reaction to their findings that MPs should be given a pay rise from the current £66,000 to £70,000 would be. They will have predicted the indignant Middle-England howls of the Mail, the oppressed screeches of the Mirror and the mass disapproval of the public, handily surveyed by the Sun.

The more astute members of IPSA may even have foreseen the stampede of MPs desperate to be seen disapproving of the rise. All sides of the house lines up in front of TV cameras and microphones to assure the public that they didn’t deserve or want a pay rise. From Nick Clegg saying he wouldn’t take the rise to David Davis calling it ‘barking mad’, MPs across the board have rushed to ensure that they are not seen endorsing IPSA’s decision.

Given the overwhelming volley of abuse that has been directed IPSA’s way this week, one might have begun to wonder why this body even exists. IPSA, of course, was given the responsibility to set MPs pay after the expenses scandal, before which MPs themselves set their pay rate. Since IPSA was given responsibility to set this rate, it has not changed once, due to a wage freeze for MPS after the election.

Despite the fact that MPs have in no way been responsible for this announcement, they have still been subject to the standard anti-politician objections and corruption allegations they used to face. Why? Partly due to the media, which knows that an anti-MP line will be popular with readers, and partly because of a readership and electorate which assumes the worst of politicians before it has heard the facts.

If the public and MPs are not going to accept IPSA’s findings, then in its function as a pay-setting body, IPSA essentially becomes toothless. Its recommendations must be made to stick, regardless of how unpopular they are. The whole point of having an independent body making these decisions is to make them more likely to be good decisions.

Most people, and all politicians, if queried, will agree that MPs pay should be set by an independent regulatory body. The public, then, should face up to the consequences of their beliefs and decisions. To support the creation of a body such as IPSA and then to scoff at its findings because you don’t agree with them is clearly inconsistent. Either one must support the body, and its findings, or neither. We place trust in independent bodies to perform their tasks well. There is no evidence IPSA has not. Its crime had not been to be inaccurate, but to be too honest.

The public and the press cannot have their cake and eat it. They need to make up their minds. It is clear that MPs should not set their own salaries. We should give IPSA a chance to do its job properly, and the catcalls of a prejudiced public do nothing to aid this. The truth is, the uproar over IPSA has nothing to do with the body itself and everything to do with a nationwide hatred of our chosen representatives. Some of them took advantage of an expenses system, so now we allow nothing to pass without outrage.

This must stop. IPSA should be allowed to continue its job. Given the pay freeze, it is certainly not unreasonable to suggest MPs should be given a pay increase now. The press, the public, and indeed politicians, need to stop flaying the name of Westminster as an easy target and instead take the medicine which was administered in response to the expenses scandal. If not, it is the public that will suffer in the long run.