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.

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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia