Sunday 8 December 2013

Depoliticise MPs' Pay

MP's shouldn't get a huge pay rise. And you don't need a hotline to each and every registered voter to know the overwhelming majority would agree. It's quite simple. A £66k salary is a great deal more than the majority of people will ever see in their pay packet. A tidy sum like this may well have started out with the best intentions; of ensuring working people could afford to become an MP and that the Commons wasn't the exclusive playground of the rich. However, if a week is a long time in politics what is a century? These days MPs' remuneration connotes nothing of the sort. It speaks of venality, troughing, hypocrisy and greed. And even if your MP "is one of the good sort", there's always an army of imaginary others living it up on the taxpayer dollar. At a time the government is making "tough choices" that do not affect people like them, their austerity rhetoric, their pious sermonising that there isn't enough cash in the kitty to protect public services or give its employees a cost-of-living pay rise is more than unfortunate. It's toxic.

MPs' pay has had a corrosive effect on our politics that doesn't stop at Westminster. There is a widespread view that councillors on local authorities are banking massive sums. In Stoke earlier in the year, the decision to postpone a rise in members' allowances from £11,000 to £12k per annum in 2015 sparked outrage among the local pub bore brigade. "Corruption!" and "piggy piggy piggy, oink oink oink" were among the offerings served up for the local rag's letters' page and comment boxes. I'm sure this isn't unique to Stoke either. In fact, I know it isn't. MPs' diddling their expenses deepened the anti-politics mood and tarred all of mainstream politics with the same crooked brush, whether you're a town councillor or Member of the European Parliament.

The issue of pay goes deeper than the antipathy the public have towards politics and their elected representatives.

As per my walk-on part in the Great Moving Right Show, I don't hold with the 'workers' MP on a workers' wage' populism any more, but its critique of the current £66k salary is unanswerable. A wage, if that's the right word, of that size can insulate MPs from the real world. Whether intentional or not, it is now the immediate material basis for our old friend the Westminster Bubble. Being out-of-touch with what's going on "out there" has the effect of bending our honourable members' focus toward the stakes 'n' shakes of parliamentary affairs. For the Tories, it compounds their blindness to the character of a sizeable chunk of new private sector jobs, and the cost-of-living crisis ("crisis, what crisis?"). For Labour, as Hazel Blears once noted, it did little to build more social housing during 13 years of government because no one at the top had ever been affected by housing waiting lists. That, if you ask me, is a recipe for elite politics. And it's something a massive pay rise will compound.

"But the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority are just that, independent! What's the point if we don't take their recommendations?" Well, yes, IPSA is *politically* independent. But just who are the people that run it? What milieu do they come from? Let's have a look. I make that two senior lawyers, two ex-hospital chiefs, one ex-MP, and one former senior civil servant. That's what I like to see - a board that reflects Britain's full range of income scales. I mean, seriously, what a farce. IPSA is run by people who circulate in the same London-centred milieu as MP's and, unsurprisingly, have set a salary commensurate with the expectations and entitlements of it.

IPSA shouldn't be in the business of setting MPs' salaries. The board's "qualifications" and their backgrounds would rule them out in my book. Quite what level they should be pegged at is something for another time. Yet the sting needs to be permanently drawn out of MPs' pay as one condition of rebuilding trust in politics. And the way to do it is not by accepting a hefty £7,600 rise. Instead, it needs depoliticising as a matter of urgency. And the way to do that is by pegging it to public sector pay settlements. MP's are, after all, paid by the taxpayer (even though, for bureaucratic reasons, they and their staff are on the Crown's payroll). Then we will see how keen they are about that public sector pay freeze.


Anonymous said...

Why not peg MPs' pay to some percentage of median full-time pay for the country as a whole ?

James Gibson said...

Quick question.

Why wouldn't you support MP's being given workers' wages? MPs already get a great deal of support from the government that pay for virtually half of all of their living costs; the actual wage is just paying their kids' uni fees.

If we had MPs who were paid the national average salary, perhaps they'd be more motivated to bring up the wages for everybody else?

Anonymous said...

I remember my mum finding it crazy that the prime minister gets paid less than the head of a local business.

MP's pay isn't even the tip of the iceberg.

The world is crazy I tell you.

Alex Dawson said...

The issue with MPs pay and expenses is always clouded by the ludicrous regime whereby MPs expenses total huge amounts of money which is actually the legitimate cost of employing staff, travelling about on business, stopping in a hotel etc...

So when an MPs expenses total is put out as a standalone figure, people are convinced their noses are in the trough before we have even begun. They need to separate out the travelling and office/staff costs from the second home stuff.

In terms of the actual wage, it is of course ludicrous that MPs earn more than double the average salary, let alone three times that as is being proposed. Pegging it to a commensurate public sector Whitehall grade would be far, far more appropriate, as would receiving the same pay rises as those staff.

You could also have some sort of bonus for long incentive, if you like...for MPs winning their seats. And performance related pay, if it's good enough for everyone else, should be introduced in some way.

Dave Levy said...

They used to be linked to the Civil Service Assistant Secretary Grade. I can't remember if they delinked because they wanted to cap Civil Service pay while increasing that for MPs or if the MP link was depressing the AS pay scale.

But basically you can't de-politicise the subject.

I like the idea of linking the MP wage to a multiplier of the median.

Phil said...

Hi James,

There are a range of competencies that comes with being a MP that, in my opinion, justifies a professional salary. What level that should be pegged at I'm open to (within limits, obvs). Hence why I no longer hold to the workers' wage idea (incidentally, do the senior paid trade union officials of the organisation that has made it a central shibboleth of their world view take only the workers' wage? If so, why are they reticent about trumpeting it from the roof tops?)

Phil said...

Perhaps it can't be depoliticised Dave, but it can certainly be detoxified.

T-Childs said...

'If we had MPs who were paid the national average salary, perhaps they'd be more motivated to bring up the wages for everybody else?' Which is the very reason why they won't be lowering the wage of MPs anytime soon. As long as the rich and affluent are well cared and provided for, who gives a flying f*** about the rest of us?