Chris Davies MEP writes… To tithe or not to tithe?

Money is tight. The party is far from being flush with cash and there is not enough in the coffers to fund the level of campaigning we need. We rely heavily on voluntary donations, and equity demands that we dust off a recommendation of the 2008 Bones Report – the one calling for Lib Dems at every level of government to give a proportion of their income to support activities that can enhance the effectiveness of the party.

Most councillors already do this, donating 5-10% of their allowances. ALDC even provides model standing orders that require each voting member of a council group to pay an agreed subscription or lose their right to vote within the group. There is no legal bar to imposing such a requirement upon candidates standing for office in the name of the party, or for withdrawing the whip if they subsequently fail to honour their commitment.

With the selection process due to start this year, the Candidates’ Committee could impose a requirement that those seeking election to the European Parliament in 2014 commit themselves annually to contribute 10% of their pre-tax salary.

Ministers apart, our MEPs remain our best paid parliamentarians. The salary is €95,484 pa, which at today’s exchange rate amounts to £80,200 and compares nicely with the £65,738 paid to our colleagues at Westminster. We also qualify for a generous expenses allowance. Of course, some of the people who lobby us are paid even better, but no-one forces candidates to secure election to the European Parliament and there’s no shortage of able Lib Dems who would leap at the chance of having the opportunity.

Many existing MEPs already donate large sums, sometimes exceeding such a tithe. The declared figures are publicly available on the Electoral Commission’s website but they don’t tell the whole story as smaller donations to a range of local parties may not appear. Only the donors know exactly how much they give.

Others may take a different view on this, viewing the money paid to MEPs and MPs as their salary, to which they have a right, and that any donations they make should be entirely voluntary.

Being an MEP is a fantastic, fulfilling, worthwhile job and I love it. If future candidates are required to make a financial pledge they should regard it as a small price to pay.

If we can require a financial contribution from councillors then why not from parliamentarians? Why should we not have a requirement that is clear and transparent and that leaves no doubt that everyone is making a fair contribution? There is an argument that MPs, linked so closely as they are to a particular constituency, should be treated differently from MEPs, but it is one that can wait. The immediate issue is whether such a requirement should be included in the criteria for the euro-selection process that gets underway this summer, or whether it will be off the agenda for another 5 years.

What do party members have to say?

* Chris Davies was Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West from 1999-2014.

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  • My objection to mandatory tithing is that it leaves us open to the line of attack of state financing by the back door – that we have an incentive for our M(E)Ps etc to line their pockets as it automatically generates more for the party (NB I am aware that Chris led the way in transparency & declarations & fighting fraud etc).

    I would expect MEPs to voluntarily donate sums around what this tithe would generate as they have a high disposable income, but making it a requirement leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

  • Old Codger Chris 17th Feb '12 - 5:47pm

    I appreciate that Chris Davies’s piece is about MEPs but it’s got me thinking about the situation for councillors.

    The ALDC model constitution states ” All group members shall set up a direct subscription payment from their allowances towards party campaign activity” How can this be reconciled with the fact – according to the Direct Gov website – that “Councillors are not paid a salary or wages, but they are entitled to allowances and expenses to cover some of the costs of carrying out their public duties”?

  • David Christopher 17th Feb '12 - 8:46pm

    I note that comments both here and on Facebook are against Chris’ idea.
    I however strongly support him.

  • Stephen – I may be misreading your comments (or indeed Chris’ original post) but it looks to me like you are talking at cross-purposes: that he is suggesting a tithe on the income once elected and you seem to be talking about the income of candidates before being elected?

  • 1. I don’t think it is reasonable to base any contribution on pre-tax calculations. It should be based on net.
    2. A salary is someone’s living, for goodness sake, it’s the roof over their head. Our MPs and MEPs work hard and give over far more of their lives and family time to the job than they get paid for. I don’t believe we should ask them for any more than that.

  • I support Chris

    @Ann – it has to be on the gross as otherwise the more you earn & the younger you are the less you pay. In short the net pay of a high rate tax payer is less than that of low rate tax payer as a % of their gross wages. Likewise those beyond state retirement age don’t pay National Insurance so would have a higher net and pay more than a younger person who does.

  • Alan Hilliar 18th Feb '12 - 11:07am

    I’m on the paliamentary candidates list, and if elected, I wouldn’t have a problem with paying a regular contribution towards the party that elected me.
    However, I think you need to be careful about the “tithe” approach. I speak as someone who is an active member of our local church, and I’ve considered the question of whether I should give 10% of my income to our church. The general rule operated in the church of england is that you are expected to give generously to your local church, but how much you give is up to you and your conscience.
    This recognises (for example) that those with a young family are more more stretched financially than those whose children have grown up and left home (as in our own case).
    Equally, there is a difference between an expectation placed on councillors to contribute from their allowances and that of MPs. Councillors generally serve part time and have another source of income to maintain themselves. MPs generally have no other source of income. There is also a strong assumption that MPs will contribute from their salaries to their constituency party.
    So, in summary, by all means let’s have an agreed expectation that MP’s and MEP’s will contribute to the party,
    BUT let’s agree the amount individually depending on circumstances, and let’s split the amount 50/50 between the local and national parties.
    I think the role of an MP is pretty demanding. Don’t demoralise them by treating them as a “cash cow”.

  • I support Chris the Party’s resources help get people elected and IMHO they should repay this and help pay towards their re-election campaigns by tithing some of their income from their elected position once elected

  • Richard Marbrow 19th Feb '12 - 2:24pm

    To be absolutely clear, Chris is referring to a post election tithe. ie, in the same way as we tithe from councillors. This would not be a tithe from candidates and it would only apply once someone was elected.

  • Are you telling me that a portion of my Lib Dem councillors’ allowances paid for by taxpayers is going to fund a political party we may not support?

  • Luke Richards 19th Feb '12 - 11:13pm

    I think there’s a much stronger argument for asking MPs and MEPs to tithe than there is for councillors.
    – MPs and MEPs get more to begin with
    – Cllrs allowances are supposed to cover costs, rather than being a salary
    – MPs and MEPs income is a salary. Being a parliamentarian is a job that, without the support of the party, those who hold such office wouldn’t have.

  • Totally agree with Chris – MEPs should pay their tithe – but I am sure they all do

    Can someone provide a list of MEPs that do and those that don’t!

  • The allowance or salary for doing the job (Cllr, MP, Mep) is quite inadequate for the job(if it is done to the best of your ability)the problem is that in each case there is no ‘job-description’ so nothing to gauge against. So first thing needed is a job description(isn’t one rquired under employment law?) Second, we need to clear out the shirkers who get the allowance and don’t earn it, who bring about this mis-belief that it is ‘free money’, – then there can be an understanding that it is a meagre remuneration for the responsibility and the work done, and therefore a tithe of only those who have been elected is totally unjust. The elected ones are not ‘the party’, they are our spokespersons and need to be supported, not sponged off. We are all responsible for ensuring the party has the finance to function, so the idea of a tithe is a good one, but ONLY if it is a tithe of ALL members, and of ALL income – ie a guide of the level of contribution that the party needs. Then against that, those of us who put in the extra time and personal money into local activities, those who run local events and voluntarily do all the running around, and those who take time off work and pay all the costs associated with going to conference, can have a clear conscience about contributing less.

  • Rebecca Taylor 12th Mar '12 - 1:07pm

    I would also add a point here that is worth raising: it does happen that MPs and MEPs dig in to their own pockets while they are a candidate to help fund the campaigns that elect them and they definitely have to pay any candidate related expenses.

    This could include:

    – getting into debt to pay for campaign expenses e.g. overdraft, bank loan, credit cards
    – moving house to live in a constituency
    – changing employment so they work part-time or take a less demanding lower paid job (so earning less than they could/used to earn)

    Added to the above three (which are not exclusive), there is the general cost of being a candidate including travel, clothes (you have to look smart on many occasions!) and attending events, buying raffle tickets, bidding for auction prizes, responding to appeals to help other candidates/local parties etc. For candidates with children or other caring responsibilities, additional childcare/respite care cost might also be incurred.

    Some people (but not everyone) can manage the costs of being candidate quite well because they previously had a well-paid job or they have a well-paid spouse/partner. For other people these costs are probably a barrier to being a candidate in the first place, but that is another debate.

    I think therefore a certain amount of discretion/understanding should be applied to take into account that not everyone is beginning their MP/MEP life in the same financial position.

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