NEW POLL: What should we pay our MPs?

Tory MP Sir Patrick Cormack – the grandees’ grandee – isn’t alone in thinking MPs are under-paid. Today’s Times reports (under the oh-so-impartial headline, MPs hijack expenses inquiry with complaints and demands for pay rise – do you remember the days when newspapers reported facts, and let us form our own opinions?) that Sir Christopher Kelly’s Committee on Standards in Public Life inquiry into Parliamentary standards has been

bombarded by MPs’ complaints about their miserable lifestyles, media intrusion, the inadequacy of existing allowances — along with repeated demands for a hefty pay rise. … A detailed analysis by The Times of hundreds of submissions shows that such views are far from exceptional, particularly among Conservative MPs who believe that they would be earning far more if they had never entered politics.

The debate has been well-rehearsed. Gone are the days of amateur MPs, men with means who could afford to regard being elected to Parliament as their public duty and/or an amusing hobby. Paying members of Parliament is an essential pre-requisite of a democracy of all the talents. How much they should be paid inevitably plunges you into the murky realms of envy, greed and compromise.

On a rational supply and demand basis, it is perfectly obvious that MPs should be paid not a single penny more. Political parties in winnable seats have no problem in finding candidates: more people want to do the job than there are vacancies available. It’s an employer’s market, and in this case the employer is the taxpayer: why should we cough up more cash?

Ah, yes, goes the argument: but you get what you pay for. Increase MPs’ pay and you will attract a better quality of candidate; attract a better quality of candidate and you will better MPs; and better MPs make for better democracy and better government. If only it were that simple.

The plain truth is that being an MP is not a job like any other profession, where vocational qualifications and relevant experience are essential prerequisites, not desirable optional extras. Headteachers, doctors, dentists, the police and armed forces: all those in public service who get ‘to the top’ have to have done their time, demonstrated their aptitude. MPs may well have done so (think Bob Marshall-Andrews, Vince Cable, David Davis), but they certainly don’t have to.

Besides, no matter at what level MPs pay is set – whether it was doubled or tripled – the chances are that a significant number of those we elect will end up earning less than they could outside Parliament; while a good many others will earn more than they could possibly ever dream of doing in the ‘real world’.

It’s inevitable: of course we want Parliament to include entrepreneurial businesspeople who know how to make money. But we also want people who have been successful working in shops and schools, on farms and in factories, in the law and in the home. How else can Parliament be truly representative otherwise?

In all the talk – in Lib Dem circles and beyond – about how Parliament can become more inclusive, most attention is focused on visible diversity, chiefly gender and race/ethnicity. We rarely ask the uncomfortable question whether the House of Commons will actually be a better national decision-making forum if a black solicitor from a middle-class background replaces a white solicitor from a middle-class background.

But back to MPs’ pay… The principle should be that you set a salary at a rate which is not so low it will deter the brightest and best from all sorts of walks of life from entering Parliament; but not so high that it will incentivise the greedy and incompetent to give it a go. The trouble is that each individual’s price will differ.

My guess, for what it’s worth, is that the current rate of MPs’ pay is currently about right: that £65k is enough to encourage public-spirited individuals to put up with living the distorted life of an MP, while not so much that it distances their lives too far from the majority of the public they are elected to represent. But what do you think?

Here’s the question: MPs are currently paid £65k per annum. Do you think they should be paid more than this, the same, or less in the future?

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    • Andrew Suffield 24th Aug '09 - 10:02pm

      I want every single person in Parliament to be earning less than they would in industry. That way, there will be no people in Parliament who have money as their first priority. Increasing their pay will not attract a better quality of candidate. It will just attract a greedier one.

      Enough to live comfortably and not be tempted by modest bribes. No more.

    • Andrew Duffield 24th Aug '09 - 10:09pm

      Peg it at 3 times the national average wage and leave it there (about £65k co-incidentally). If MPs want a pay increase, they’ll have to enact policies that improve the economic lot of the UK working population as a whole. Shifting taxes from earned productivity to unearned privilege would be a good way to start.

    • Peg it at the basic rate of JSA – the one for the under 25s – plus the average single room rent for their constituency and council tax share based on a shared house in the appropriate, probably lowest, band. They are to be found legislating at each budget that this sum is enough money for other people to live on and that these circumstances are adequate for other people to live in. Given that, they should not be eligible to a penny more for their income.

      Any outside incomes from outside jobs should draw draconian penalties in line with the way doleys are penalised for moonlighting.

      Their expenses, however, should be receipted and open to a much higher total spend.

    • I think they should still get a say in their own pay – if they can’t be trusted to set their own pay how can we trust them with the nation’s laws or finances??

      I’m happy for their salary to go up if they reduce the number of MPs because that will obviously lead to increased workload. I also don’t have any particular objections to increases/decreases in general – MPs should set their own salaries and if they get it wrong voters should be able to initiate recalls. Expenses should be restored to only those incurred as part of the role of an MP – not including campaigning, buying toasters (unless it’s for the office) or moat cleaning, again unless it’s for the office 😉

      There seems to be a lot of outrage sloshing around at the moment for various things. I’ve moved on to the indifferent acceptance stage, who’s with me?

    • DannyMackay 25th Aug '09 - 8:57am

      I say we tie MP wages to wages in a suitably senior area of public service like head teaching or GPs. Such people should not have to take a pay cut on election to Parliament, but the public sector can’t compete with the commercial incomes of people like Alan Duncan.

    • Matthew Huntbach 25th Aug '09 - 8:58am

      If it was a 9-5 permanent job, I’d say 45K or so was about right. Factoring in the uneven hours, need for dual location for MPs representing distant constituencies, and job insecurity, and 65K seems about right. The housing expenses system was obviously a really stupid idea, so should be replaced by a fixed rate amount for those MPs whose constituencies are far enough away to warrant a second home, the level should be the minimum annual cost of renting a one-bedroom flat in inner London, obviously if they want more than the minimum they should pay for it for themselves.

    • If you tied MPs to GPs you would be looking at a hefty pay rise the amount most GPs can earn at the moment.

    • Amanda Taylor 25th Aug '09 - 1:47pm

      Their wages should be set by an independent panel, in the same way that councillors’ allowances are. The panel could be drawn from people who have previously served on local authority members’ allowances panels.

      Anders is right that councillors don’t always take the allowances in full though and there needs to be some mechanism to make the recommendation mandatory. In Cambridge, I don’t think we have ever taken our recommended rise in full, as there is always the budget for everything else you want to do.

    • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '09 - 8:49am

      Why should MPs get paid a flat rate decided in advance anyway? Why can’t their pay either be set in some sort of market-driven way and/or a performance-related way? It is surely not beyond our ken to come up with a system for paying our representatives in a way that actively incentivizes them to do their jobs properly

      We have such a system. It is called “election”. After a period of at most five years their performance is reviewed, and if they fail to meet the requirements of their performance review team, they lose their job. It is quite brutal because the requirement is that anyone else may apply for the job and the performance review team must agree the MP is better than anyone else who chooses to apply.

      Apart from this, it is important that MPs are left free to do their job as they wish and are not forced to follow patterns set for correct behaviour. I should imagine the party whips would very much like the power to be able to set performance targets.

    • Man on a Train 27th Aug '09 - 7:16pm

      Sorry we seem to be suggesting very small numbers. Is the idea to cripple the Tories by paying too little for them to get anyone to stand?

      How about a weighted average of their last 3 years earnings and then increase that by inflation + 5% per annum?

      That might incentivise older candidates and disincentivise professional politicos.

      Second home needs funding as lets be honest this could be a lifetime job – “its not a career secondment” but funding should not deliver a profit.

    • Guy Patterson 28th Aug '09 - 11:07am

      A difficulty in deciding on MP’s pay is that MPs fall into two roles: back bench or governmental. Although an MP in government is paid more than one on the back benches, few prospective candidates on the hustings know where they will end up, so the pay rate offered has to be based on the assumption that any MP when elected may be given governmental responsibility, even though fewer than 20% of them will end up in that role. The result is that the back bench salary is inflated beyond what it is worth, while the salary for a governmental post is deflated.

    • The current MP’s salary / pension /.free travel already puts them in the top 3% of salaries in the UK.

      This is already too high for a job that requires no qualifications,experience or skills,if they are unhappy then they should take a second job (they have plenty of time) or leave as there are thousands of others that would be happy to take their cushy jobs.

    • Nobody has mentioned MP’s supplementary incomes. Most MPs are intellectually capable of holding a second job, so why not redraw parliamentary hours to allow them to do it effectively.

      MPs with a large casework load will argue that they don’t have time for a second job. So create a two tier salary system: median national wage if an MP has a second job, and double it if they don’t.

    • Student Nurse 24th Apr '10 - 6:24pm

      For a start – £65k!!! How can this possibly be a reasonable amount for an MP’s annual income?! This is absolutely far too much.

      This amount is triple the amount an average Band 5 staff nurse receives each year as an income. How this is acceptable, fair and just I’ll never know. As a young student Nurse, I have been struggling to live off £500 a month student bursery in Edinburgh, which is a fairly expensive place to live considering the average one bed flat to let is between £4-500 a month. Unable to live off of my bursery, which doesn’t even cover all my bills let me add – I am forced to work 20 hours a week part-time on top of the 40+ hours a week on hospital placements. Plus I have to write countless essays!

      Regardless of this, when I qualify I can look forward to a measly £20k annual income for helping to save lives every day, whereas the greedy MP’s of Great Britain goble our hard earned tax on second mortgages and such like.

      I am intending to vote for the first time this year, although it’s not going to happen as so far I have not seen a party that is honest, for the working class and above all wants to help this country from falling apart. The greed in man is a sad one. No wonder the younger generation aren’t interested in voting – let the idiots of our older generations carry on…what can we possibly do or say that will change things!!

    One Trackback

    • By LDV readers say: pay MPs more! on Fri 25th September 2009 at 3:34 pm.

      […] A month ago, Lib Dem Voice set up a new poll for readers asking the simple question, MPs are currently paid £65k per annum. Do you think they should be paid more than this, the same, o… […]

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