It's the kind of headline that could almost have you wondering whether you had one too many after all on New Year's Eve, and have just woken from a long and boozy slumber to find it's April Fool's Day already. Read it again: MP's Want 32% Pay Rise. Check the date - it's not 1 April, and these people mean it.
Where to start? Well, let's leave aside for a moment the obvious questions of taste and decency, and look at the tactical issue of timing. Thinking as an MP might think - couldn't this story have been "buried" among other items of news that redound to Parliament's credit? It's been done before, after all.
Well, no - there just isn't any good news at the moment, not unless you're a millionaire planning how to spend your forthcoming £100,000-plus tax cut. For those of us in the real world, it's pay freezes, benefit caps, fuel and food price rises, and other nightmarish manifestations of austerity. So, there appears to be an obtuse arrogance about this demand, carelessly thrust out there at a time when everybody but the very rich are suffering. The message seems to be: you lot - button your lip and take your medicine. We're in charge, and we want cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
So, is there any justification for this seemingly outrageous demand? It's really difficult to find any at all. One MP was on national radio in a blithering attempt at justification - and claimed that MPs should be compared to "star footballers" - though he didn't specify exactly how. A talent for a body-swerve, perhaps. But that's not any kind of sensible analogy; it's more akin to head-in-the-clouds megalomania. It really is awfully hard not to be very, very angry - do these people actually think that everyone out here in the real world is irretrievably stupid and endlessly gullible? What other explanation can there be for such a hollow and fatuous remark?
And the deuced fellow went on to opine that only with such a pay rise could "the best people" be attracted to standing for Parliament. Two problems here: firstly - who says that MPs are recruited from the ranks of "the best people"? Let's face it, most backbench MP's are merely lobby fodder, whose star turn is the occasional planted question at Prime Minister's Question Time, in a desperately transparent attempt to make the boss look good. Other than that, it's sit back, relax and make those farmyard noises that signify either support or derision for what's going on. It's nigh-on impossible to tell which, most of the time. Their constituency work is researched and enabled by the bright lads and lasses in their back-up team. It could fairly be claimed that a backbench MP's job is a bit of a sinecure.
So, secondly - where are "the best people"? Why, they're working at the sharp end, most of them, as teachers, nurses and similar public servants, in conditions the Hon. Member for Cloud Cuckoo Land South wouldn't contemplate in his or her worst nightmares. And here, tellingly, is where the terminology changes - when teachers or nurses ask for a decent salary, they don't talk about "incentives for the right people". No, they talk about "vocation" - to ensure that we don't get people moving into these professions for the wrong (monetary) reasons. There's a particularly repellent double standard at work here.
Let's be clear about this. A majority of MP's of all parties actually want this ridiculously over-the-top hike in their salaries, and are prepared to argue for it even in the face of the most draconian cuts for society at large, which are hitting those at the lower end of the income scale in a decidedly disproportionate fashion as compared to the effect at the top end. There is no shame, no sense of bad taste, no hint of contrition at all. Are these people really fit to lead us?
It seems clear that anyone who seriously contemplates asking for something of this order of pay rise, in the current climate especially, is hopelessly out of touch with public opinion. It's a frankly obscene amount, in the context of the wider situation, and surely - surely - anybody with enough grey matter to find the way from Westminster tube to the Houses of Parliament must know this, deep down inside. It can only be arrogance, and a lack of any social conscience, that permits the voicing of such an outrageously inappropriate demand.
I would suggest that the best thing such a person could do is abandon the party whip so that they can think independently, and read Orwell's "Animal Farm" to see whether any glimmer of reality penetrates the skull via that incredibly acute allegory. As a last resort, they might pack a case and head off to a southern hemisphere reality TV Show to munch on kangaroos' testicles and contemplate their own folly. Yes, the food on the "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here" menu might be a little odd and unpalatable - but it's a hell of a lot easier to swallow than the headline at the top of this article.Suggest a correction