July 17: MPs pay the price for broken trust

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THE timing could not have been worse after the 10 per cent increase in the basic pay of MPs was sanctioned after a Budget that capped public sector pay increases at just one per cent.

Once again, it creates the potentially toxic impression that Westminster’s elected politicians are back on the gravy train – hence the number of MPs from this region who intend to forego the rise and give the £6,940 a year rise to charity.

Yet the inevitable hostility is, in many respects, a hangover from the 2009 expenses scandal which eroded so much public trust in Britain’s political elite. A key point overlooked in this backlash is that this increase, approved by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, is actually “revenue neutral” as a result of changes to the pension arrangements of MPs as well as those allowances that enabled one senior Tory to use public money to pay for a floating duck house for the garden of his country estate.

However this unhelpful state of affairs is the consequence of successive governments, dating back to Margaret Thatcher’s era, ducking the “pay” question and looking for alternative means to top up the incomes of MPs. If there had been greater resolve, it might be possible to hold a sensible discussion about whether backbenchers are paid a sum that is, in fact, commensurate with their responsibilities and what voters expect of them. There is actually a case to be made for increasing the salary in return for MPs foregoing second jobs.

Such a discussion that also needs to reflect the costs of local government now that the role of councillor, once undertaken by volunteers, is now remunerated, and very generously so in certain instances. Until the “cost of politics” issue is grasped in its entirety, the question of pay will continue to lurch from one controversy to another – and that will not help with the task of restoring trust to the democratic process.

Correct diagnosis: NHS must embrace 24/7 working

OUTSPOKEN critics of the Government’s plan to create a 24/7 NHS need to consider these two salient facts. Around 6,000 lives are lost every year because of a shortage of senior staff at weekends, and patients are 15 per cent more likely to die if they are admitted to hospital on a Sunday rather than a Wednesday. Are opponents of Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, saying that they’re happy for this state of affairs to continue?

Like day-to-day policing which is very different today to the beat bobby approach of Sir Robert Peel, the NHS is unrecognisable today to the type of service envisaged by its own founding father Aneurin Bevan in the 1940s. Yet, just as time has not stood still, the country’s hospitals and so on need to accept that the expectations of the public are very different thanks to medical advances and a political awareness that patients should not have to wait a year for routine treatment.

As such, the quietly determined Mr Hunt deserves credit for trying to introduce new contracts in the teeth of opposition from the medical profession. His challenge is ensuring that there are sufficient doctors and nurses graduating from the UK’s medical schools to fulfil this remit, and that sufficient funding is available. It does not end here – the potential benefits of this policy will increase still further if GPs provide a more effective out-of-hours care service, and that town halls have the resources to respond to the care needs of the elderly.

Having made the correct diagnosis, one which looks to the long term. Mr Hunt now needs to win over his many critics so the necessary contractual changes and accompanying reforms can be introduced in an effective manner.

Fight for survival: History will be kinder to Nick Clegg

THERE is still every likelihood that political history will be far kinder to Nick Clegg, and the Lib Dems, than the harshness of the electorate’s verdict on May 7 when the party was punished for its role in Britain’s first full coalition since the Second World War. Having acted in the national interest, and then sought to be a moderating voice in government, the party has paid a very heavy price for providing the country with political stability at a time of economic instability.

Yet, while the former Deputy Prime Minister has conducted himself with great dignity and still has much to offer to the country, his party now needs to find a new voice under Tim Farron who was elected as Mr Clegg’s successor yesterday. The question many activists will be asking is if the Lib Dems should strive to 
return to government at some point, or become a vocal conscientious 
objector from the sidelines. Yet the harsh truth is that survival is the number one priority as the party looks to the future.