Flat-footed Cameron is being outmanoeuvred by Miliband on MPs' pay

Just as Gordon Brown was outplayed by Cameron during the expenses scandal, so the PM risks suffering the same fate now.

After focusing for months on the "cost-of-living crisis" and the dramatic fall in real wages, Ed Miliband is more aware than most of how damaging the spectacle of MPs receiving an 11% pay rise (taking their annual salary to £74,000) could be. In an attempt to resolve the issue, ahead of the expected announcement by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) on Thursday, Miliband has now called for cross-party talks to be held.

A Labour spokesman said:

If the package of proposals being set out by Ipsa is as reported it cannot go ahead when people are going through the biggest cost-of-living crisis for a generation.

Therefore we are asking the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats for a cross-party approach that recognises the current economic circumstances where workers in the public and private sectors are going through such difficult times.

A Labour source told me that the hope was that a united front by the three main parties against the pay rise might persuade IPSA, which was awarded control over MPs' pay and conditions following the expenses scandal, to think again.

But Miliband's offer has been quickly rebuffed by Cameron, with a Downing Street spokesman commenting: "There is no need for cross-party talks on this issue because we have already made clear that there shouldn’t be pay rises at a time of public sector pay restraint." (The Mail also reports on irritation that "the Labour gambit came as Mr Cameron was boarding a plane to fly to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.") 

Asked yesterday whether Cameron would accept the rise (Miliband and Clegg have both unambiguously stated that they will not), No. 10 similarly said: "Any proposal that they make will be reviewed in mid-2015, so it doesn’t arise. The Prime Minister’s longstanding position is that the cost of politics should go down, not up. He doesn’t think that MPs’ pay should go up while public sector pay is being restrained."

This raises the possibility that the rise could take place after 2015 if the 1% cap on public sector pay increases (a real-terms cut) is lifted, although given the government's vow to maintain austerity until at least 2018-19 this seems unlikely. Rather, it appears that Cameron is simply determined to kick the issue into the post-election long grass. But given the inevitable outrage when IPSA recommends an 11% rise on Thursday, it is questionable how long he will be able to maintain this ambiguity. Just as Cameron outmanoeuvred a flat-flooted Gordon Brown during the expenses scandal, so he is now in danger of suffering the same fate at the hands of Miliband.

With Tory MPs more likely to believe that they should be paid more (according to a private poll carried out by YouGov), more likely to have given up lucrative careers elsewhere (although many, of course, maintain second jobs) and privately resentful of Cameron's personal wealth ("it's alright for him", is a common refrain), the PM's hand is notably weaker than Miliband's. Conservative MP Charles Walker spoke for a significant number yesterday when he said: "I've been working since I left university for 25 years and I have never turned a pay rise down and I don't intend to start turning any future pay rises down." 

But if Cameron wants to avoid handing Labour a golden opportunity to portray him as "out-of-touch", he will need to override this opposition and say what he has so far not: I will not accept the rise and I encourage others to do the same. 

Meanwhile, Labour MP John Mann has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for parliament to instruct IPSA to limit the increase to 1% in line with the rest of the public sector. Here's the full text: 

That this House notes the decision in the Spending Review announced to Parliament on 26 June 2013 to restrict public sector pay increases to 1 per cent; endorses the view that what is good enough for the workers is good enough for the politicians; and instructs the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to enforce public sector pay policy in its decisions over hon. Members' pay.

Given how many MPs privately believe that they should be paid more (69% according to that poll by YouGov, with an average salary of £86,250 recommended), it will be worth watching to see how many nevertheless sign Mann's motion. 

David Cameron and Ed Miliband in Westminster Hall. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA