How MPs in safe seats pile up outside earnings

I’ve commented before on the huge number of seats that are safe for life (murdering your local party chair or buying a duck house excepted) – in fact nearly half the seats in Parliament have never changed hands between political parties even once in the last forty years.

That leads to all sorts of problems – complacent MPs who get out of touch and don’t have to work hard. It also means, as the Yes To Fairer Votes campaign has highlighted, more scope to spending your time earning money from other jobs:

“First Past the Post is a moonlighter’s charter. An MP in a safe seat, enjoying its benefits, can leave constituency cares behind and seek employment elsewhere. An MP who faces the threat of unemployment at the next election will be less tempted to graze in the pastures of lucrative consultancy.”

That’s the conclusion of former MP for Tatton and anti-sleaze campaigner Martin Bell after the publication of research from the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign which shows that MPs in safe seats earn twice as much in outside earnings than MPs in marginal constituencies.

The Alternative Vote reduces the number of safe seats, making all MPs work harder to reach out to 50% of voters. The Yes campaign is launching a national advertising campaign and published names of the ‘hard working’ second jobbers in parliament who stand opposed to reform.

There is a clear link between safer seats (those where one party can be confident of victory) and higher earnings for MPs in those seats:

  • the average MP in a ‘safe’ seat earned an extra £11,000 last year
  • the average MP in a ‘marginal’ seat earned an extra £6,500 last year.

Outside earnings totalled £5.6 million last year, with the highest individual earner taking £785,000. Research defined 382 seats as ‘safe’ at the 2010 General Election, factoring in boundary changes. The figure was presented as a highly conservative estimate.

Meanwhile the Yes2AV campaign has released its latest campaign video, fronted by Eddie Izzard:

And a reminder of one of the most popular videos supporting the alternative vote doing the rounds at the moment – the one with the cats:

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  • So in that case what you do is make certain that the voters know and can make a value judgment. It may, of course be that the voters are happy with their MPs performance. In any case, I don’t see how AV (or a proportional system for that matter) would sort this out – if indeed there actually is a problem.

    As I have said on here before – term limits rather than a change in the voting system would likely be a more effective reform.

    Don’t get me wrong here – if you want to ban second jobs, then just ban second jobs, presumably for the Lords too. Fine by me. It’s just that using the electoral system to manipulate this is a bit of a backdoor argument.

  • Charles Kennedy is in a safe seat with a massive majority of over 13,000. Menzies Campbell has one of nearly 8,000. Do you honestly think these aren’t committed MPs?

    Why is the yes campaign so prone to making crap arguments and shooting itself in the foot? I will be voting yes, but this has got to be one of the worst political campaigns in living memory.

  • g – Yes. I don’t really know why the YES campaign has gone so hard on this line about making MPs work harder. Presumably it is a way of tapping into the sentiment around expenses? Problem is, as you say, this is pretty much saying that the voters are making bad choices and the system needs to be manipulated because of the choices voters are making.

    Moreover, I do wonder if the expenses story was bigger on the internet than it was in reality. Locally, Ann Main was reelected in St Albans. I’ll let you look up her expenses story for yourself. However she was comfortably reselected by the local party with a very large majority and was reelected quite easily with a maintained majority and (I believe) no Ashcroft money and a hostile local newspaper. St Albans is not a safe tory seat, the area has a Lib Dem council and neighbouring Watford had (pre-Ashcroft) a Labour MP since 1997. What are we supposed to do in this sort of situation – tell the voters they are wrong?

  • This might be an argument for STV or an open list system, but it’s really not an argument for AV. Under AV the safest seats of all would be absolutely unaffected, and of the others some would end up safer and some less safe (in the final round) than under FPTP.

    If this spurious rubbish is the best the “Yes” campaign can come up with two days before the poll, then their defeat will be absolutely deserved.

  • @Mark Pack

    The Yes article doesn’t caveat it’s arguments, e.g. “MPs in safe seats earn twice as much in outside earnings than MPs in marginal constituencies.”

    Where is the ‘some’?

    And the argument is more strategic anyway, you open yourself up for people looking at your MPs in safe seats, such as the last two leaders of the party…

    As I said, it’s an inept campaign.

  • @Mark Pack
    I think I have to agree with g, it does seem like the Yes campaign has gone out of it’s way to make itself look daft again.

    You yourself blew the thing away with the comment “It’s quite possible for there to be a strong overall relationship and also individual exceptions”, if you, as a Yes man, can see this how long do you think it’ll take the no campaign to trash it. I also noticed that they’ve only done a very short list on the PDF, I got to Louise Bagshawe and gave up as it seemed to be an exercise in mud flinging as opposed to a proper evaluation. I came to that conclusion after comparing the party biog and “They Work For You” Website (TWFY), I gave up on LB as apparently she has written 12 novels (and will get royalties for years to come), but the PDF gives the impression that all of her work has been in the last year.

    Incidentally, I must also agree with the comment from g “…you open yourself up for people looking at your MPs in safe seats, such as the last two leaders of the party…” because of the following:

    Charles Kennedy – record on TWFY,
    Has spoken in 19 debates in the last year — below average amongst MPs
    Has received answers to 13 written questions in the last year — below average amongst MPs.
    Has voted in 43.85% of votes in this Parliament with this affiliation — well below average amongst MPs. (From Public Whip)

    Second income is way above the 11k marker (plus he gets income from a rental flat in London), he was also number 91 on the list of total expenses.

    So no own goals there then.

    If the Lib Dems fight another referendum I would suggest that they find a better campaign team.

  • It’s almost as if the lessons of 2010 haven’t been learnt. Telling porkies to win votes backfires.

    The lib dems will be held responsible for the failure of electoral reform.

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