How much MPs really think they should be paid

A private survey of 100 MPs by YouGov found that 69% thought they were underpaid with an average salary of £86,250 recommended.

While you'll struggle to find an MP prepared to publicly defend the 11% pay rise proposed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which would take their annual salary to £74,000, many take a different view in private. An anonymous survey of 100 MPs conducted by YouGov on IPSA's behalf found that 69% thought they were underpaid, with an average salary of £86,250 recommended. 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 don't expect many to say so. 

With MPs powerless to prevent the increase unless they strip IPSA of its responsibility for setting pay (which, ironically, it was awarded following the expenses scandal in an attempt to increase trust), it seems likely that many will either refuse to accept the rise or donate the money to charity. Danny Alexander said yesterday: "I think it would be wholly inappropriate for MPs to get such a large pay rise at a time when every other public sector worker sees their pay rises capped at 1 per cent. I have said in the past that, personally, I wouldn’t accept it" His Conservative cabinet colleague Philip Hammond said: "I suspect the Prime Minister would want cabinet ministers to make a clear, collective statement about what they would do. I suspect there will be a strong mood in the Cabinet that we all need to say the same thing." 

For Labour, Ed Balls said: "How can they possibly be saying we should discuss pay comparability when everybody else is seeing their pay frozen or falling?" When the proposed increase first emerged in July, Ed Miliband pledged to scrap it if Labour is elected and simultaneously called for "new limits" on MPs' earnings from second jobs and "new rules" on conflicts of interests, declaring that "the British people must be reassured that their MPs are working for them". 

Elsewhere, reflecting the line that many MPs will take, Nick Boles tweeted: "If MP pay rise is imposed I'll give to local charities anything above average wage rise at time. IPSA plan is wrong when people struggling."

The Houses of Parliament on August 29, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.