Pay MPs more to stop second jobs?

I was on BBC Radio Ulster yesterday on the subject of MPs’ pay.

I found the whole debate fascinating and, as I said, I have come to no clear conclusion on it. However, the case I made was as follows, and I wonder what people think of it.

Firstly, MPs do have an incredibly important job – they make the laws of the land and oversee other policy (including foreign). For this, they are paid considerably less than, for example, many people who interpret the law or even enforce the law at a high level.

Secondly, the job involves immense stress. They represent 100,000 people, generally live away from home much of the week, and often work crazy hours in a pressurised environment. They have to balance interests of constituency, party and country in situations of high complexity. Small wonder that, only half way through the current parliamentary term, one sixth of the new intake of MPs had separated or divorced from their partner at time of election. That is a monumental price.

Thirdly, the job involves huge public scrutiny. MPs are held to higher standards than most people even in their daily or private lives. This is also highly challenging.

So, for a high level of professional skill, mad hours and huge stress, what do we pay them?

They earn two and a half times the average, but that is about the same as a public sector agency CEO in Northern Ireland; marginally less than the average school principal or police superintendent across the UK; and significantly less than the average NHS manager or GP. So where do we put them on the scale?

I think politics has to be a vocation, so I just about rule out GP-level salaries (even though, we may note, 800 people in the Northern Ireland Health Service alone earn over £100k, at least 50% more than MPs). However, maybe around a Superintendent of Principal, at approaching £80k?

The quid pro quo, as I suggested, was zero tolerance for other income of any direct kind at all – resignation of paid directorships, no dividends, probably no property either. There would also be zero tolerance on dodgy expenses claims. My suspicion is the public would live with a pay rise in those circumstances, even a fairly significant one.

I don’t accept, by the way, the line that there are loads of “good people” turned off politics by the “low salary”. In the case of Malcolm Rifkind (you’ll have to excuse me omitting his “title” in the current circumstances), you are dealing not with someone who needs more money, but with a pathetic man who has gotten well above himself. So I do not believe higher pay would end such issues entirely, but it would make them a lot clearer cut. I wonder if that’s a compromise we could live with?


3 thoughts on “Pay MPs more to stop second jobs?

  1. It’ll never happen, but my ideal would look something like this:

    *Re-educate the public to ensure that they are contacting the correct elected rep for the issue. I know many MPs and their staff who spend far too much time having to deal with constituents’ issues which should be going straight to a County, Borough or even Parish councillor. I’m sure in the NI case, I could add MLA to that list.

    *The public should have a reduced level of expectation as to what an MP actually does, viz. write, debate and scrutinise national legislation. Much of which can actually be done on a shorter timetable than is held currently.

    *In order to effectively do this core job, an MP needs a realistic understanding of what life in the real world is actually like, so….

    *Compulsory “second job” by not paying them a salary at all (but do pay expenses, of course)! Being an MP becomes a voluntary vocation, and by having a “normal” job, Members are better able to understand the changing landscape of life outside of Westminster.

    As I say, it’ll never happen, mainly because the public will still expect their MP to be turning up to open the village fete, and so increasing the high demand on their time which leads to a lot of the pressures you correctly identify in your blog.

  2. Touching on much of what Andy has already said…

    MPs are not experts in legislation or foreign affairs. The only full time politicians in my eyes should be the Executive or Cabinet with their role changed to governance of their varying departments.

    At set times of the year MPs should assemble in parliaments to vote on the legislation produced for a maximum of 2/3 weeks and perhaps vote on the proposed agenda for the next 6 months.

    Such a change in role allows a variety of new types of candidates to become available. Doctors mixing with factory workers or farmers to vote on how they see the plan for the next 6 months.

    Lets not kid ourselves to think that politicians draft legislation as it is. Most of what they do is take the blame for highly paid bureaucrats legislation.

    This should in theory eradicate career politicians and force them to get a real job and interact with real people to finally discover what real people need and want. Isolated in Westminster from the reality of life in their constituencies does not make for a good MP. Indeed the relative security of their salary insulates them from many of the policies they implement.

    What is the role of a NI MP now? What do they do that an MLA couldn’t?

    People need to learn that they have the power to do everything that an MP can do if they familiarise themselves with how government bodies work.

    When was the last time a great debate was had in Westminster, Stormont or our local council? Debate or what little there is of that is now conducted on the radio or TV shows.

  3. Maybe scrap the House of Lords and double their workload.

    On the high level of professional skill, I probably would disagree Naomi Long’s work as a civil engineer, Alasdair McDonnell’s work as a doctor, Nigel Dodds work as a barrister, heck even Paul Maskey’s work as a tourism manager … These were professional people who required higher skills than is necessary to pass for being a politician and went into a job were tact rather than talent is demanded.

    Professional programmers get paid less than politicians, Scientists and Engineers get paid less than politicians, speech therapists and translators get paid less than politicians.

    Are we honestly saying politics is a highly skilled profession when the average Joe or Joanna can be a pub politician watching TV and reading blogs.

    It’s not as if they’re the civil service.

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