Bernard Trafford: Giving MPs a pay rise may be what politics needs

Regular readers may have formed the impression that I’ve little time for politicians

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

Regular readers may have formed the impression that I’ve little time for politicians.

It’s true they make me angry when they’re pig-headed, arrogant and opinionated.

Nonetheless, I’m feeling sorry  for rank-and-file MPs, who are in a mess over their salaries.

Now, you may consider  £66,396 is a decent annual total. They’re not going to starve, but they’re earning fully a quarter less than other senior professionals.

Though many won’t accept that comparison, I reckon it could explain why politicians so frequently disappoint.

Who would readily abandon a well-paid job for a life split between the constituency and Westminster, maybe trying to be a parent simultaneously, trailing home after a long working week for constituency surgeries, while at the beck and call of Press and activists, with no future guaranteed beyond the next election?

For an ambitious adult with a family, it’s a dodgy career path. Indeed, it’s nowadays a common complaint that too few of the political class have had proper jobs, families, experience of the world, of being accountable to customers, bosses, the public.

They appear either to swan into Parliament on a cushion of inherited wealth or to slip into a safe seat after a convenient period as a policy wonk. Neither’s  a reassuring grounding for representing voters or running the country.

Margaret Thatcher, who was married to a multimillionaire, wouldn’t countenance increasing MPs’ pay. Tony Blair did. David Cameron, phenomenally rich in his own right, is against a rise. The protests of his Cabinet, lining up vociferously behind him, are a little loud to be entirely credible.

When Maggie refused to increase MPs’ pay, a back-door solution was found.

Since the recent expenses row, we’ve rightly despised those who made false claims or got the taxpayer to fork out for their duck house or moat maintenance.

Nonetheless it’s now known  MPs were actually pushed to maximise their expenses claims. It was a conscious, carefully hidden means of compensating for inadequate pay.

There’s never a politically right time for MPs to pay themselves more. The present administration formed the independent IPSA to set a realistic salary level for MPs. 

Its boss, Sir Ian Kennedy, has devised a package that will deliver a more “professional” salary, but he’ll end the £30,000 pay-off for those who lose their seat and reduce the unbelievably advantageous MPs’ pension.

Kennedy claims his proposed deal is also a reasonable one for the taxpayer, the overall cost increasing only slightly in relation to government spending.

Trust parliamentarians to set up their own mechanism for independent, objective assessment and then rubbish it.

To be sure, some vocal critics are merely grandstanding, but they demonstrate how out of touch many MPs are with ordinary people.

Perhaps it’s too insulting to talk about paying peanuts and getting monkeys, but we do need more of the brightest and best at Westminster. As things stand, we’re arguably lucky to get as many good MPs as we do.

Parliament should be sufficiently robust to accept the recommendation of the independent body it created.

Yes, when our next tax bill comes in we’ll moan, but if we end up with a more effective Parliament and better representation, we should reckon it’s worth it.

If Parliament doesn’t put its house in order decisively and confidently, it risks continuing domination by the super-rich, for whom politics too often appears a hobby, and the graspers, who take every freebie going, accept well-paid consultancies and build dubious, lucrative relationships with lobbying groups.

Is it so very heretical to suggest that we pay MPs properly and then demand better service from them? The alternative is to continue fudging, obfuscating,  and suffering the consequences.

Which would you prefer?

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