Monday, 3 June 2013

“I’ve done nothing wrong”

There was a time when MPs were paid nothing for representing their constituencies, and only the very rich could afford to take on the job.  From an establishment point of view, that system had a lot of advantages; it kept power in the hands of the few and excluded the majority from participation in elected politics.  When the Chartists proposed that MPs should be paid a salary, there was some opposition to the idea, but eventually the idea took hold. 
I doubt that the Chartists ever expected that MPs would come to regard that salary as being just a part – and for some, quite a small part – of their overall income; the idea was to open up parliament to people from all backgrounds by making the job a full time one.  Today’s salary of some £65,000 is no small sum; it’s well above what most of the population could ever expect to earn.  Yet still we have some MPs who see nothing at all wrong with ‘supplementing’ that income with all sorts of outside interests, some of them dubious to say the least.

Every time some scandal or other is uncovered there are calls for ‘tighter regulation’, or for more scrutiny of what MPs are up to.  And every time the rules are tightened or amended, the unscrupulous find ways around them, and invariably fall back on the excuse that “I’ve done nothing wrong”, because they’ve followed the letter of the rules.

Time, perhaps, to get back to the original thinking behind paying a salary at all.  A full-time job deserves a full time salary, and that’s what they get.  A generous full time salary at that.  Why should they be allowed to earn any extra money at all whilst carrying out that full time job?  A simple, easy to understand, and easier to enforce rule – no outside earnings at all.  Just a salary for doing the job to which they sought and won election.

Some will no doubt argue that this will keep able people out of parliament, since they can earn more elsewhere.  There are a couple of major assumptions in that, however.  

One is that people are motivated primarily or even solely by the amount they can earn.  Maximising personal financial benefit is one of those assumptions that economists like to make about motivation, but it’s not true for everyone and never has been.  Besides, is that what we really want from our elected representatives?  Pursuit, first and foremost, of their own financial interests?

The second assumption is that the most able people earn the most money.  I’m not sure where the evidence is for that assertion; observation suggests to me that it’s the most pushy and ambitious who end up earning the most, not necessarily the most able.  

It’s not the most able who would be deterred from standing for parliament by a ban on outside earnings; it’s the most greedy.  Would that be such a bad thing?

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

“Time, perhaps, to get back to the original thinking behind paying a salary at all.” I think your words capture what has to happen, but not from banning all kinds of things.
The people who hire (select) MP`s should hold the contract of employment and set the wage level based on their annual performance. This is the constituencies who would get funded from the centre but would reduce the level of pay if performance was not to standard and /or they had other sources of income. Any surplus from the funds given by the centre would be allocated to constituency work.
Being a backbench MP is not a full time job – Wee Gordon Brown is proving that point most months and I would not wish to stop them partaking in the real world rather than being locked up in Westminster.
As for the Lords – much loved by the Anglo- Welsh in Blaid, who voted to be part of this useless Club – what can I say, but that as with the office of Head of State they are designed to be unaccountable and reluctance to reform the Lords is in part to protect the Head of State which would be next in line?