Ok, this may not be popular. Arguing in favour of MPs is a bit like advocating herpes. So not going apoplectic at an 11% payrise seems strange. It may seem doubly strange when they are the same people who have given me a roughly 30% pay cut in the last few years and are looking at hitting me with more.
Still, here goes…
It’s not actually an 11% payrise
Although MPs will get an 11% increase in salary, they are getting cuts elsewhere – to pensions and resettlement grants particularly. The end result? Cost neutral. In other words, MPs won’t be ending up with more overall.
It’s worth reading the report in full (it’s not actually that long). It explains why, although this is a PR disaster, it’s actually a sensible way of moving forward.
An MP is actually worth over £70,000
Being an MP is an incredibly brutal job. I’m sure it’s a great and rewarding one, but it’s also fucking hard work. You have to be ‘on’ the whole time, especially in these times of social media.
If your constituency is outside of London then you have to spend half the week away from your family. Even if your constituency is in London, you’ve got not only long hours in the House, but often anti-social ones.
There is also a huge volume of casework and other constituency work. You are representing the people and therefore, rightly, the people feel that they have a call on you. For surgeries, constituency meetings, party meetings, school fetes, etc.
And then there are all the other areas of work – select committees, All Party Parliamentary Groups, campaigns and many other things besides. These all take a vast amount of time.
The idea that all MPs are lazy or greedy is just wrong. With very few exceptions they are incredibly hard working. In my job I’m used to working long and anti-social hours, but I don’t know how someone (to pick an example from my area of work) like Karl Turner does it.
And you have to do this whilst having all the sneering, as well as regularly having buckets of (metaphorical, but sometimes literal) shit heaped on you.
So yes, with this payrise MPs will be in the top 5% of earners (and will be about twice the median salary), but it’s a pretty fair remuneration for the work that they do.
It’s an anti-corruption measure
Some people want a massive cut in MPs salary and/or expenses. But whilst that’s populist, I don’t think it’s sensible.
I don’t want my MP to miss a crucial division because she’s asleep, either because they’ve been doing night work to supplement their income, or having been kept up all night by Eric Pickles snoring in the next door room (MPs ‘should be unpaid’, or all shoved in a hotel in Wapping being arguments that I’ve heard). I don’t want them to be distracted by second jobs or tempted by vested interests.
Having a high salary is a good check on lobbyists with brown envelopes (and other seemingly less malign measures). Of course MPs should rise above that anyway, but lets remove that temptation by paying over the odds.
I’ve got slightly mixed views on second jobs. I kind of see the argument that it’s good for MPs to ‘keep in touch with the real world’ but it’s not always that practical. Maybe a couple of days a year to keep your hand in (if that’s possible) but no more than that.
I want the best
I want my legislators to be on the ball. I don’t want them to be worrying about the gas bill when they’re deciding to bomb Syria or not. Yes they are earning well, but not all of the expenses that they occur will be covered by expenses (particularly after the expenses scandal).
I’ve never stood for Parliament, but I imagine if the election is on the 1st May (for example) you don’t just turn up at the end of April and get voted in. In the six months or so previously, you will be campaigning almost full time in many cases.
Also, if you get sacked, almost uniquely among British workers you can’t complain to an Employment Tribunal. If you get fewer votes than the person standing next to you on the stage on the Thursday night, the Friday morning you’re unemployed. That’s what the resettlement grant (which is being cut) is to cover, but you haven’t got much job security.
Being a legislator is a vital job, and we don’t want anyone to look at it and think ‘can I afford to do this?‘. As I say, the salary needs to cover the time leading up to the election as well as potentially a pretty awkward time afterwards.
With some careers you can step out for five or ten years and then step back in again, but these are rare. The salary needs to reflect that.
Lastly, many people who are in line to by MPs are ‘high flyers’ who are probably earning more than current Parliamentarians and they shouldn’t be put off (but that’s not, probably, my best point).
What’s the point of an independent body if we don’t accept it?
Actually, to me this is the biggest point. We all remember the expenses scandal and the glee with which the duck ponds, moats and porn films were presented in the press.
There was some claims that weren’t that bad, but were just sensationalist reporting, but there was some proper corruption as well. Rightly, people demanded action.
What they got is an independent body. IPSA has its faults (it’s rumoured to be harder for MPs to get money out of them than for a lawyer to get paid by the LAA) but you can see the sense in taking MPs salaries away from MPs and handing it over to a group that hasn’t got an interest in the outcome.
The problem with that is that you can’t then complain when this independent body turns around and recommends an increase.
We would be, rightly, outraged if MPs overruled a decision by IPSA (which could probably only be achieved by scrapping IPSA as a whole) that their salaries should be lowered. Why is this different? If Chris Grayling were to agree to put a negotiation on lawyer’s salaries out to an independent review I’d be pretty livid if he reneged on that if he didn’t like the outcome. We asked for MPs salaries to be set independently, now we have to accept the outcome.
Yes, it’s galling that MPs are getting an 11% payrise in this time of austerity and our real salaries are falling. But, we’re talking about less than £5 million – small change at the end of the day. It’s not going to actually make any real difference to the nation’s finances. And as it’s cost neutral, it actually won’t make any difference at all.
More importantly, MPs deserve a high salary, there are good reasons why they should be paid a high salary and good constitutional reasons why, when we put this out to an independent body, we should go with what they say.
So there we go. My defence of a ‘pay increase’ for MPs. Normal service will be resumed shortly …