According to The Guardian this morning, David Cameron is under pressure from Conservative heavyweights to agree to a substantial increase in MPs’ salaries. The increase, which would raise MPs’ salaries from £66,396 a year to £74,000, has been recommended by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), the much maligned body in charge of MPs pay following the pensions scandal. Ipsa is expected to make a final recommendation in the coming weeks following a public consultation on MPs’ remuneration.
The leaders of all three main parties rejected Ipsa’s proposals when they were first made, but the issue has now returned to haunt the Prime Minister at a particularly inconvenient time. Indeed, Mr Cameron is about to find himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Rejecting Ipsa’s recommendations again will put him at odds with senior members of his own Parliamentary party, and it is worth remembering that Downing Street has had to put considerable time into maintaining good relations with the backbenches. It will also put a final nail in Ipsa’s coffin, which presents the problem of what or who will then oversee MPs’ pay and salaries.
On the other side, accepting a MP pay hike would save Ipsa (although probably only temporarily) but would inevitably put Mr Cameron on the wrong side of the public mood and provide considerable ammunition to a Labour Party that is continuing to focus on the cost of living. It would also fuel criticisms that Mr Cameron is out of touch with the public, especially after Downing Street suggested that people should wear jumpers to counter the enormous price increases by utility providers last week.
Denying MPs their pay rise would not be fatal to Mr Cameron. It is inconceivable that the Conservatives would ditch him just two years before a General Election. It would, however, foster ill-feeling and potentially leave Mr Cameron vulnerable if he fails to win a majority in 2015. His salvation might come in the fact a pay increase would not come into force until 2015, so negative column inches now would have limited impact on his election chances. For that reason, it might well be that we see a pay rise for MPs approved in the coming weeks.