Coffee House readers will be unsurprised by the interest taken by the newspapers and the Today programme in MPs’ pay: this blog predicted that it could be the next big row in the Conservative party at the start of June. It is politically sensible for the Prime Minister to say that he disagrees with a pay rise recommended by Ipsa if it raises overall costs, even if he has no formal veto over a raise. All he can do is send a formal response to the pay consultation. But he will need to work hard to keep his party behind him, and so will the other party leaders. This is not just a Tory problem: as one Labour frontbencher reminded me recently, the trade union influence in Ed Miliband’s party means his own MPs will instinctively want to negotiate the best pay settlement for themselves in the same way as unions always strive to do for their members. But it is an especially toxic issue for the Conservative party because of the divisions and rows that have sprung up over the past few months.
One senior backbencher remarked to me recently: ‘The PM has hopefully learnt his lessons on acting like a cavalry officer with little regard for the pay and rations of his foot soldiers.’ At the time, they said they suspected that Downing Street would try to sit on the fence on the pay issue, pointing to Ipsa’s independence. That didn’t seem like a sustainable position, and David Cameron has broken cover on the issue even before Ipsa has reported. That David Davis has also said a pay rise would be ‘completely inconceivable’ could help Cameron reach out to some irreconcilable backbenchers.
There is a calm at the moment in the party, and the Prime Minister and his colleagues have, as I reported recently in the Telegraph, been doing their best to heal wounds by love-bombing backbenchers. The pay issue will be a test of whether they have succeeded, and also a further reason for that love-bombing to continue in order to prevent another row.