Downing Street made clear the prime minister was opposed to the idea of a pay rise for MPs in principle but claims it is beyond his control, because the level is set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).
A senior No 10 source said: “He’s an MP, so if Ipsa sets the pay for MPs he will take the pay that MPs get. The bit of pay that he controls, ministerial pay, there was a 5% cut in 2010 and a 10-year pay freeze.”
This is a significant change in Cameron’s position since before the election, when the prime minister indicated he would rather scrap the MPs’ pay watchdog than allow the “simply unacceptable” increase to go through. Downing Street said on Wednesday that it now had no plans to make any changes to Ipsa.
Cameron’s reluctance to turn down the pay rise is most likely a move to keep his backbenchers on side, as they could feel under an obligation to refuse the extra money if their leader did.
With a majority of just 12 MPs, Cameron cannot afford to alienate many of them over the issue of salaries and he will earn a considerable amount of favour if he does not block the rise.
Labour is taking a very different stance, as three of the main party leadership hopefuls have now explicitly said they will not take the rise.
Andy Burnham, the frontrunner in the contest, said he would either reject it outright or give away the recommended rise. He wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: “I have always been clear that 10% pay rise for MPs cannot be justified. I won’t accept it. Will turn down at source or give to local groups.”
A spokeswoman for Yvette Cooper, another of the candidates, called for the prime minister to stop the rise going through, making clear she would not accept it herself.
“Yvette thinks its wrong to have 10% at a time when the deficit is still high and public services are about to be cut,” she said.
“She thinks Ipsa should withdraw it and the prime minister should step in to prevent it. If it goes through she won’t take it, but she thinks Ipsa and the prime minister should sort it out before that.”
Liz Kendall, the third hopeful in the leadership contest, said she would turn down the pay rise or donate the money to charity.
Stella Creasy, one of the MPs seeking the deputy leadership, said she would also forgo the extra pay. “MP pay rise unjustifiable,” she wrote on Twitter. “If it goes through, will let my Walthamstow residents panel decide how to spend it on our local area.”
A spokesman for Harriet Harman, the acting leader of the party, said: “She’s not getting into it on an individual by individual basis but I would be very surprised [if she took it] given that she as the current leader of the party has made it clear it is unacceptable for MPs to be taking a significant rise in their pay.”
Last month, the prime minister urged Ipsa to come to a “different view”. When the increase was first proposed in December 2013, Cameron threatened to intervene and said it was “simply unacceptable” for MPs to receive such a financial boost at a time of wage restraint for other public sector workers.
Under the expected plans, Cameron would receive a 5% pay rise when his frozen ministerial element is taken into account, with his total package increasing from £142,500 to £149,440.
Public sector unions called for parity in the treatment of their members and MPs. Mark Serwotka, the head of the PCS union, said: “It would be grossly hypocritical for any MP who voted for years of pay cuts for public sector workers to accept a 10% increase for themselves.”
The consultation document issued by Ipsa on Tuesday claims that, due to cuts in pensions and expenses such as a ban on claiming for evening meals, the overall package of changes would not cost taxpayers “a penny more”.
The document says: “We remain of the view that it is right to increase MPs’ pay to £74,000 for all the reasons we set out in December 2013 and which we summarise above.
“Subject to any new and compelling evidence arising from this review, we therefore intend to implement the determination as currently drafted, with a one-off adjustment in MPs’ pay to £74,000 and subsequently linking it to changes in average UK earnings for the remainder of this parliament.”
The watchdog argues that MPs’ pay has fallen to 78% of that of “equivalents in the public sector”. It compares their role to the top tier of the civil service, chief superintendents in the police and colonels in the armed forces.
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