Miliband matches Clegg's pledge not to accept a pay rise. Will Cameron?

The Labour leader's promise not to accept the £7,604 pay rise to £74,000 leaves the PM as the odd one out.

After IPSA recommended that MPs' pay be increased by £7,604 to £74,000 in 2015, Ed Miliband has joined Nick Clegg in pledging not to accept the rise. 

I don't think MPs should be getting a 10% pay rise when nurses and teachers are facing either pay freezes or very low increases and people in the private sector are facing similar circumstances. I'm very clear - I don't think this package of proposals should go ahead in the current economic circumstances.

If this was to go ahead I wouldn't be accepting this pay rise but I don't think it is going to go ahead in the current circumstances because I think that when Ipsa consult the public, the public will be pretty clear that while the difficulties we have in the economy persist we can't have MPs getting a 10% pay rise.

At the first of his regular press conferences earlier this month, Clegg said: "Speaking for myself I would certainly seek to do whatever I can to make sure that either this decision is not taken in the first place - but that's out of my hands - but, secondly, if were to be taken, not to take that pay increase."

This leaves David Cameron as the only of the three main leaders not to have promised to decline the increase. Downing Street made it clear this morning that Cameron opposes the rise, but stopped short of saying that he would not accept it. The likelihood, however, that he will be forced to revise his position, possibly as early as today. As I noted earlier, the public, unsurprisingly, oppose the increase by 68 per cent to 17 per cent, with 50 per cent believing that MPs are already paid too much (their current salary of £66,396 puts them comfortably in the top 5 per cent of earners. ) 

Should MPs receive the rise, and only in a change in the law will prevent them from doing so, it will also become even harder for Cameron to oppose Miliband's call for new limits on MPs' outside earnings and a ban on them accepting paid directorships and consultancies. As the Labour leader knows, Cameron  is vulnerable to the charge that he is defending the interests of his own side. In the 2012-13 parliamentary session, Tory MPs declared more than £4.3m in outside earnings, compared to £2.4m by their Labour counterparts, £1.37m of which was accounted for by Gordon Brown, who did not personally benefit from any of the money. 

Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Ed Miliband during a reception to mark the inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, at Buckingham Palace on June 25, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.