THE BLOG

Damned if They Do...

12/12/2013 11:32 GMT | Updated 11/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Today's announcement by IPSA of a proposed 'inflation-busting' pay increase for MPs has, predictably, attracted widespread criticism. There is a lot of frothy outrage about people widely caricatured as money-grabbing sleazeballs getting 11% when nurses are getting next to nothing. Wider messages, about how MP pay has fallen behind others in the public sector, let alone others around the world, and about wider reforms of benefits paid to Parliamentarians, have been completely drowned out. To many commentators this is a simple case of greed.

The response of Parliamentarians themselves has been entirely predictable too. All weekend the great and the good took to the airwaves to denounce IPSA's decision, condemn its tin ear for public opinion, and say that if awarded an extra 11% they definitely would not take it, no way. Of course we shouldn't be blinded by these gleaming halos. As several people have pointed out, when the payment arrives in a couple of years how many MPs will simply quietly take it?

That reflects a deeper issue for Parliamentarians. On this subject, as on so many, MPs are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they say they will take the pay rise they are greedy; if they claim they won't they are not believed. When trust is so low, and respect for their leadership is so lacking, it is hard to persuade anyone that you are sincere. Effective communication becomes impossible.

This reflects the long-standing reality that Parliament as an institution is letting down Parliamentarians. A key voice lacking in this debate has been that of Parliament itself, setting out the facts, shaping the debate, and providing a trusted and independent voice. There are so many positive things that can be said about Parliament and its role in holding the Executive to account, creating a context where trust in the institution and its Members is rebuilt and announcements like today's are so much better understood. But that is not happening at the moment - or at best it is happening piecemeal.

So someone needs to take responsibility for a sustained communications campaign, drawing together the various strands of activity into a coherent and compelling case for Parliament. It is time for Parliament itself to up its game.