With the decision on the pay rise for our AMs now apparently done and dusted, I’m not sure that I'd award any of the parties any prizes for their behaviour; the best that I can come up with is an honourable mention for (most of) Plaid.
Firstly, the Tories. There was something distinctly unedifying about the man who is probably the wealthiest member of the Assembly (and despite almost nine years as a member, one of the least well-known) leading the charge. Speaking on behalf of a party which has opposed and obstructed the transfer of powers to Wales at every stage, here he was demanding that the 'extra powers' which most of his party have fought so hard to prevent should now be reflected in extra pay for himself and his colleagues.
Secondly the Lib Dems. If they had anything meaningful or original to say, other than ‘give us the money’, then I’m afraid that I must have blinked at the time. They have been no more relevant or visible on this issue than on any other.
Labour have mostly managed to avoid saying anything very much, which was probably a wise move. Letting Alun Davies loose on the matter was a good deal less wise. Rather than attempting any serious attempt at justification of the decision, he resorted to attacking Plaid members for being unable to face up to the ‘difficult decisions’ of being in government. Really? Serious business, this governing, obviously. Having to take major decisions like increasing your own pay – it’s really tough on them isn’t it? How to lose an argument in one easy lesson.
Lastly Plaid. An honourable mention for a degree of consistency. In a previous post, I referred to refusing the rise as ‘gesture politics’, but they seem to have ultimately had little real choice. I haven’t really changed my mind, but from their perspective, having presented evidence to the review body arguing that no rise was necessary, and then having voted against the rise, quietly accepting it would have looked like sheer hypocrisy. Damned if they do; damned if they don’t. So why only an honourable mention?
Three main reasons.
Firstly, because it ended up looking as though some of them were at best reluctant participants in declining the rise, and two seem still to have opted out. In addition, taking the money and giving it to charity sounds well-meaning, but in practice, unless done carefully, it means that 50% of the money gets paid straight back to Mr Darling in tax and NI. It also leaves an easy option for quietly taking the money in a year or two's time.
Secondly, because their opposition seems to have been as much about timing as about the principle. One is left believing that many of them would be quite happy to take the money if only the timing had only been a little better.
All of the parties seem to be obsessed with the idea that their pay should in some way be related to that of MPs, and this whole debacle has been about whether an AM is worth 76.5% of an MP, or 82%. Bandying numbers like that around makes it sound as though there is some clever science and arithmetic behind the equation; but it’s ultimately an entirely subjective judgement.
Yes, but that 5.5% is very important, they seem to be saying. They’re doing more, and MPs are doing less, so the differential should be less. (The obvious question is the one which so many have asked, which is why, if MPs are doing less, the rise for AMs is not compensated by a cut for MPs – I haven’t heard a sensible answer to that question yet.)
But there are also 1.5 AM’s for every MP – 60 compared to 40; and if Richard’s recommendations had been taken up and implemented (which I think they should have been, by the way), the ratio would have been 2:1. Where does that factor into the 82% equation? If there were more AMs to do all this extra work, would that mean a salary cut?
We need to get away from an essentially irrelevant comparison with members of another legislature; stop looking over our shoulders at what’s happening elsewhere, and decide what’s right in a Welsh context for Welsh legislators. Their status and esteem depends not on being a few percent closer to being a ‘proper legislator’ in London, but on what they do and are seen to do here in Wales.
And that brings me to the third reason why I give Plaid no more than an honourable mention. If there is one party which should be prepared to forget comparisons with London, and have the confidence to look only at what is right for Wales, it should be Plaid.
And another thing…
I understand how the Western Mail can refer to the need to attract people of higher calibre to become AMs, but when AMs themselves start to use the argument...
If an AM says “We need to attract people of a higher calibre” isn’t (s)he effectively saying, “I know we’re not up to the job, but we’re the best you can get for this sort of money”? And if that is so, then there is a fairly obvious corollary - if an increase is needed at all, it can safely be deferred until the next Assembly elections, because that’s when better people need to be attracted to stand, not before.
The converse is that we would be paying more to the members who make such statements - and paying more to people who have admitted that they are not up to the job doesn't seem to me to be sending them quite the right message.