The independent parliamentary watchdog is set to defy David Cameron and publish proposals expected to recommend an £8,000 increase in MP salaries, even though the idea has been condemned by the leaders of the three main parties.
The prime minister had hinted that he could scrap the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) in the coming years if it continued with its plans to raise basic pay by 11% from its level in 2015.
However, a political row broke out as Labour‘s leader, Ed Miliband, said the prime minister was not doing enough to resolve the uncertainty and demanded an immediate meeting on Thursday with Cameron, Nick Clegg and Sir Ian Kennedy, the head of Ipsa.
On the eve of Ipsa’s report, Cameron said the prospect of a large pay rise for MPs was “simply unacceptable” at a time when public-sector workers had seen their pay increase by less than 1% a year during the course of this parliament.
He demanded that the independent watchdog thought again about its proposals to increase the basic MP salary to about £76,000, and he made clear that he had not ruled out altering the system if that did not happen. “First, the idea of an 11% pay rise in one year at a time of pay restraint is simply unacceptable,” he told the Commons. “Secondly, Ipsa do need to think again, and unless they do so, I don’t think anyone will want to rule anything out. No one wants to go back to MPs voting on their own pay but we have got to have a process and an outcome that can build public confidence. Third, in my view, I think this should all be accompanied with a cut in the cost of politics.”
However, a spokesman for Ipsa said the watchdog’s view on MP pay would be published as planned on Thursday, after two years of work and research on the issue.
In a blogpost, Andrew McDonald, chief executive of Ipsa, called for people to look at research on MP remuneration instead of “shouting”. He said the proposals would involve pension and expenses arrangements, not just pay, and claimed the public had a “more nuanced and split opinion” than many politicians suspected.
Previously Downing Street had said the issue of MPs’ pay “did not arise” until 2015 when there would be a review of Ipsa’s decision, suggesting Cameron could be hoping that the dispute dies down until after the next election.
However, Miliband warned the prime minister not to kick it into the long grass. In his letter to Cameron, he said: “The public expect us to resolve this now and not wait until 2015. It only undermines confidence and trust in our political system if the uncertainty about MPs’ pay is allowed to continue.”
Cameron has not so far agreed to official cross-party talks, but told the Labour leader his door was “always open” on the issue.
The prime minister’s rejection of Ipsa’s likely recommendation was met with a frosty silence from his backbenchers in the Commons.
The Tory MP Peter Lilley, a former minister, suggested Cameron revived boundary reforms blocked by the Liberal Democrats if he wanted to bring down the cost of politics; that could lead to fewer, better-paid, MPs.