Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 25 January 2009

MP's Salary Dilemma

The story today about Labour peers allegedly being paid for influencing legislation which I have posted about separately here has reminded me of something else I have been meaning to post for a while.

MPs are allowed to have interests outside the house and are allowed to hold down other jobs, consultancies, directorships etc. as long as they declare everything. To many "ordinary" people this seems quite odd as they already have what would appear to be at least a full time job in representing tens of thousands of constituents and also holding the government to account and debating and voting for legislation in the chamber.

The dilemma that many of these MPs face is that although they are currently paid £63,291 (see here for source) this is absolutely huge compared to the average salary (around £25,000 - see here). MPs know this and so they are generally fairly muted when it comes to complaining about their salaries and they daren't try to push it up too much for fear of a voter backlash when they already earn more than 2.5 x average earnings.

The big difference though is that MPs are not really drawn from the "average" population. They are disproportionately represented by lawyers, barristers, business leaders and people from other professions and backgrounds where they could command a salary much higher than £63K. It is unsurprising therefore that there is a feeling amongst some MPs (albeit as I said largely hidden) that they are not very well paid.

They do of course get very generous expenses which to an extent compensates for this. I fully concede that there is a justifcation for some and perhaps a lot of the expenses they are given as it pays for research and admin staff and also accomodation in London which is of course important if the MP does not represent a London seat. However the expenses should only be used for what is necessary. they should not be used to buy plasma TVs and to refit kitchens. The rest of us have to pay for this sort of thing, why should MPs be any different?

My view is that MPs are paid more than enough for the job they do. If they want to earn the sort of money that they could earn outside the Commons then they should apply to be appointed to the office of the Chiltern Hundreds or the Steward of the Manor of Northstead and allow somebody who really wants the job to take their place - there are no shortage of applicants!

I also think that although it is important for MPs to have experience outside the Commons, this should come before they take their seat, not during. This may make it less likely that very young people would become MPs but that may not be such a bad thing as a bit of life experience first is warranted I feel. There would still, I am sure be exceptional politicians who make it there very young.

As for expenses, well I have a few ideas in this area too:

1) MPs researchers and assistants should be paid for directly by the state. There should be monitoring of this to be sure that this is done fairly (e.g. MPs with a particularly "busy" constituency may need more help than some others). The jobs should be given to the best candidate in an open process, not necessarily given to wives, children, friends etc. unless they happen to be the best qualified.

2) The state could purchase (or build, or adapt one or more of its existing buildings) into a large accomodation block for MPs. They would be able to use their flat within this to live in when they needed to be in London and it could operate like a military baracks or halls of residence whereby meals etc. were provided, thus allowing them to concentrate on the busy job in hand that they have. The flats would be furnished to a reasonable standard already. There would be no need to provide money to them for accomodation and they would not realise any capital gains in the end as the property would revert to the state. I understand there are practical problems with this but with the political will they could be overcome.

3) MPs would still be given expenses for things like travel to and from their constituency etc. but all receipts will need to be kept and they would need to put in a expense claim which if necessary may require justifcation like us mere mortals have to.

I realise this may not make me very popular amongst MPs (of all parties) but they have to realise how bad they look to the public and it will take some sort of radical reform like this to restore public confidence in this area.

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