You know it's a light news day when a Sunday newspaper has a story about MPs' pay on its front page. Cue today's Mail on Sunday. Their front page headline screams MPs DEMAND 10pc PAY RISE. The story commences: "A political furore erupted last night after it was revealed that MPs are demanding an inflation-busting wage increase of up to £6,000 a year." Five paragraphs later we learn: "It involves a 2.8 per cent hike in April, followed by index-linked rises in the next two years, in addition to an annual £800 top up". So it's not inflation busting at all. And it's recommended by an Independent Senior Salaries Review Body.
The trouble is with stories like this is that mud sticks. Most people reading it will come away with the thought that MPs have their noses stuck in the troughs again. The irony is that neither of the two journalists who wrote the story - Simon Walters and Jonathan Oliver - would get out of bed for the level of salary 'enjoyed' by MPs. I don't blame them for that at all - they work in the private sector, so good luck to them. But to pretend that MPs are overpaid is ludicrous.
Whenever I have written about this subject before it's provoked a torrent of responses from people who believe MPs shouldn;t be paid at all, let alone paid £60,000. Absolute tosh. What those people are arguing for is a Parliament full of rich people who can afford not to be paid. Surely we should pay our MPs at a level where few would actually be put off standing for Parliament. I'd like Parliament to be representative of a number of professions, but few people from those professions would think about standing for Parliament because they would have to take a pay drop. Relatively junior managers in industry or the public sector now command salaries in excess of what MPs earn. What message does it send out that we are happy to pay MPs the same as the Deputy Public Affairs Manager of an NHS Trust?
MPs are in an absolutely no-win situation here. If they speak out in favour of higher salaries they are accused of having their noses in the trough. If they don't they are doing a disservice to their successors, and ensuring that good people won't even bother trying to be MPs. And then we are left with a Parliament full of duds, under achievers and bores. Or have we already got there?