A pay rise for MPs? Words alone won't stop it

And we're off. The mere mention of a pay rise for MPs was bound to provoke public anger and lead politicians to try to fend it off.

Nick Clegg has said that it would be impossible for MPs to explain a big pay rise. The former Tory minister Tim Loughton says he would turn it down. No doubt others will now follow suit.

They are, though, rather missing the point - words alone won't change anything.

MPs do not not set, control or even vote on their own pay. The law was changed to stop them doing so in response to the expenses scandal.

Unless the law is changed the day after the next election MPs - old and new alike - will automatically receive a new higher salary (the suggested figure likely to be between £70-75,000 will be unveiled by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority on 11 July, consulted on and then finalised in the Autumn).

Of course Parliament can pass a new law on anything it likes, but if the government brought forward a proposal to give MPs back the power to limit their own pay they might find it hard to stop there.

Some MPs who loathe the new expenses regime might try to amend the law allowing them to set their own system of allowances and pensions. The phrase "can of worms" springs to mind.

There will, no doubt, be great public pressure on MPs to say that whatever the law says they will not take a pay rise. To do so they would have to write a letter asking that they be paid at a different and lower rate to their colleagues which might mean that MPs in safe seats get paid more than those in marginal seats who fear the wrath of the electorate.

For three decades independent reports recommending an increase in pay for MPs have been shelved as political leaders said "not now".

The new system for setting MPs pay, pensions and expenses was meant to stop that happening again, as well as to stop politicians rigging their expenses.