The honeymoon appears to be over for the newly elected Conservative government. After basking in the glow of an unexpected majority win in the recent elections, the UK’s Tories have become caught up in a media firestorm - although it may not be one they could have avoided.
Before the election, David Cameron had described a 10% pay increase for MP’s – from £67,060 to £74,000 – as unacceptable. And on the surface, it does look bad for a government that is rumoured to be planning an additional £12 billion in welfare cuts to bump up their own pay. But the government has little choice when it comes to the pay rise – it’s decided by an independent body.
Nevertheless, in the UK media, taxpayer money is a hot button issue. Just ask the banks that received bailout money: banker’s salaries and bonuses have come under intense scrutiny and the media likes to suggest that taxpayer money is being used to pay for them. And there’s no class discrimination when it comes to receiving a taxpayer funded salary: welfare recipients who are deemed to be receiving too many benefits are also popular subjects in some major UK publications.
The lesson here is that when people are giving you their hard earned money they will want to know exactly what you are doing with it and why. This is as true for taxpayers as it is for shareholders. The unavoidable reality of increased scrutiny therefore requires increased transparency. Clearly communicating what is being done with the money and why will not only prevent the media from sensationalizing the story, it will also help win the trust of those who are providing the funds.
In the case of the MP pay rise, the government actually appears to be at least trying to do right by the taxpayer. Earlier this week a spokesperson explained that David Cameron could not do anything to prevent the pay rise. Ironically, the process of having an independent body decide on MP pay was put into place to prevent politicians from being paid excessive salaries on the taxpayer dime. Downing Street has followed this explanation with a letter to the authority that decides on MP pay to appeal the increase. At the very least, Downing Street has attempted to show that they are trying to protect taxpayer money.
So while most people living in UK would be thrilled to get a 10% wage increase, for politicians that extra money is likely not worth the public backlash – especially since after tax that £7,000 won’t go very far for MP’s based in London.