Are MPs underpaid? The key numbers

MPs' current salary of £66,396 puts them in the top 5 per cent of earners but they are paid significantly less than parliamentarians in other countries.

In a proposal seemingly drawn from the Louis XVI school of public relations, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) will recommend today that MPs receive a pay rise of around 11 per cent (£8,604) to £75,000 after 2015. The increase will be tempered by the replacement of MPs' final salary pension scheme with one based on a career average, cuts to evening meal allowances (a payment of up to £15 when the Commons sits beyond 7:30pm) and transport expenses, and lower "resttlement grants" or "golden goodbyes" (currently worth up to £33,000) for MPs who retire or lose their seat, but will still represent a net gain. 

While few are likely to publicly defend the salary increase, at a time when public sector pay rises have been capped at 1 per cent until 2015-16 (following a two-year pay freeze), most MPs do believe they are underpaid. A survey of 100 MPs conducted by YouGov on IPSA's behalf found that 69 per cent thought they were underpaid, with an average salary of £86,250 proposed. On average, Tory MPs proposed a salary of £96,740, the Lib Dems £78,361 and Labour £77,322. A fifth suggested that they should be paid £95,000 or more. But are they right to believe they get a raw deal? Here are some of the key metrics for answering that question. 

Do they earn more than the average wage?

Yes, the median full-time salary is £26,500, so MPs' current pay of £66,396 puts them comfortably in the top 5 per cent of earners. 

Are they paid less than other major professions?

Yes, council chief executives (£134,528), GPs (£88,920), senior civil servants (£88,000), army colonels (£85,359), headteachers (£78,298) and police chief superintendents (£72,649) all earn significantly more. 

Do they earn less now than in the past?

No, by historical standards, the current regime is generous. In 1979, MPs were paid £9,450, the equivalent of £40,490 in real terms. Their pay has since risen by more than 50 per cent, compared to an average increase of 37 per cent.

Are they poorly paid for the hours they work?

Here, MPs are on a stronger footing. A survey by The Hansard Society found that new MPs work an average of 69 hours a week, excluding travel, with constituency casework representing the largest share of their time (28 per cent), followed by constituency meetings and events (21 per cent) and debates in the Commons Chamber (21 per cent).

The poll also found that more than half (56 per cent) took a salary cut on entering parliament. 

Are they paid less than parliamentarians in other countries?

In short, yes. 

Japan £165,945

Australia £120,875

Italy £112,898

US £108,032

Canada £99,322

EU MEPs £75,114

Ireland £74,495

Germany £73,953

UK £66,396

France £53,186

Spain £27,130

Do the public think they should be paid more?

Unsurprisingly, they do not. A YouGov survey found that 17 per cent believe MPs should receive the proposed pay rise of around £10,000, with 68 per cent opposed.

Fifty per cent believe thay are paid too much already, 35 per cent that their pay is "about right" and 9 per cent that they are paid too little. 

Some of the 232 new MPs pose after the 2010 general election in Westminster Hall. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories