Why MPs should not receive a pay rise

Do you want to give people like Gordon Brown a 10 grand pay rise for turning up to two parliamentary debates a year?

Where are they?
Alex Wickham, UK Politics Editor
On 2 July 2013 10:22

"We've got to grit our teeth and get on with it." Perma-tanned Tory MP Mark Field’s response to the imminent Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) recommendation for a pay hike for Honourable Members really didn’t complement his Cheshire cat smile and holiday-kissed skin.

This week, the body put in charge of setting MPs’ pay, after it was decided they couldn’t be trusted to do it themselves remember, will bung them a £10,000-a-year raise anyway. This wasn’t in the script, and for good reason.

The argument proffered most often by MPs looking to line their pockets -- that they are not paid enough to attract the best talent -- falls flat for three reasons.

Over the last thirty years MPs’ earnings have risen from double the average of the population to triple. This year, the basic annual salary for MPs is £66,396, with the average wage for British workers not far from a third of that at £26,500. Add to that their generous expenses budget and it is simply impossible to convince the man on the street they deserve yet more money.

That private sector high-fliers will have to take a pay cut if they run for public office should be no surprise. One well-to-do yet tirelessly assiduous MP tells me his pay is “appalling” compared to his previous life, but insists that did not deter him because he is not doing it for the money. It is people like him we want in Parliament; genuine public servants who see their position as a vocation rather than a career. This constituency-minded Member says there is a strong case for making the job unpaid entirely.

In any case, what difference would an extra £10,000-a-year make when top private sector jobs would have you comfortably in six figures? Not only is the aspiration for better representatives a tacit admission from the current crop that they aren’t the best available, it is also utterly disingenuous. Who would ditch their career as a £200,000-a-year barrister to run for Parliament because, after the planned pay rise, they would be paid £76,000 rather than £66,000?

Then there is the suggestion from IPSA-haters such as Nadine Dorries that “Parliament, without reform, will be a place of millionaires or paupers”. There is no doubt the existing expenses system is deeply flawed, though banging on that someone earning three times the average wage is a pauper probably isn’t the best way to endear yourself to your constituents.

If IPSA were taking the advice of the pro bono crowd that line may have some credence. But with unions, private donors and the taxpayer bankrolling working class candidates, rightly, no one will buy it.

If you still aren’t convinced, look no further than the sheer hypocrisy of our unabashed polticians. This Parliament, Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs have voted to freeze public sector pay at one percent.

A policy the Labour Party has confirmed it would not reverse if it were in power. Yet the very people who are telling nurses and teachers their pay will only rise by one percent are asking for an increase of 15 times that for themselves. It doesn’t take a PR guru to work out how that looks. A particularly concerned MP tells me there is no way he can justify this to his constituents in the public sector, let alone the former public sector workers laid off under this government.

This all plays into perhaps the most important argument against the pay rise: public perception. Our MPs are despised by the people who vote for them. They are seen as troughers, money-grabbers, corrupt expensers cheats with their snouts in the trough. It is not hard to see why given who the public have had to stomach over the last three years alone: David Laws, Chris Huhne, Denis MacShane, Patrick Mercer and Tim Yeo to name but a few.

Of course not all MPs are like them, but in truth that doesn’t matter. If the good eggs have any desire at all to improve the reputation of themselves and their peers amongst those that elect them then accepting a pay rise is out of the question.

Finally, the most convincing argument against the hike can be summed up in two words: Gordon Brown. I bumped into Gordon  almost unbelievably on the way to a vote in Portcullis House last night; one shocked Tory MP remarking it was the third time he had seen him this Parliament.

A man seen as guilty for ruining the country’s economy, who has spoken in two debates in the last year while he flies around the world making millions, will now pocket an extra £10,000-a-year of our money. Good luck to anyone who wants to have a go at defending that.

Alex Wickham is The Commentator's UK Political Editor and a reporter at the Guido Fawkes website. He is a contributor to their column in The Sun newspaper. He tweets at @WikiGuido

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