Who'd be an MP?
Wooly job description; 70 hour working week; intense pressure; unrelenting scrutiny; and for around £37,000 per hours worked, per year. Who'd be an MP?
With an historic coalition at the helm, an unprecedented public debt and a crisis in the eurozone so serious that we might not be able to comprehend the consequences, nobody can accuse our current politics of being boring.
Yet, turnouts at General Elections have been declining year on year since 1945. In 1979, there was a 76 percent turnout, against 65 percent in 2010. When you look at local elections and European elections, it’s even lower.
The reasons for ever lowering turnouts at general elections are complex and not an issue that can be solved in one article, but what interests me most is who our elected officials are; why they want to be where they are and what do they do? As the old joke goes, “politics means ‘many’ ‘tics’.”
The expenses scandal has, without doubt, been the low point for our MPs in recent years. Whether you take the argument that MPs are not paid enough and expenses were used as additional salary, or whether you think all MPs come to Westminster on the ‘take’, one thing is for sure, nearly 150 MPs have stood down, many more lost their seats and the feel of the current Parliament is one of big change and new blood.
Working close to an MP is a fascinating insight on a world very little understood or thought about beyond the faux gothic spires of Westminster. Whether it is writing press releases, giving speeches on the case for war, sorting out immigration cases or appearing on reality TV shows, no two MPs are the same.
They don’t have a job description other than to ‘represent’ and vote. And that’s just the Westminster bit. What about the press interviews, the W.I constituency lunches, the surgeries, the pub quizzes, the public meetings, the jam tasting contests, the listening ear as they do their weekly shop at Waitrose.... The list goes on.
For this rather bizarre role they are paid the handsome sum of £65,738. Not bad. An Estonian MP only gets £14,000 a year. However, if you accept that most MPs work around 70 hours a week (voting at 10pm, constituency work etc) and then work out what the actual salary represents per hours worked, you’re looking at closer to £37,000 a year.
There will always be a debate about whether or not we should pay our politicians better, and during a time of austerity and economic uncertainty, now is not the time for that debate. However, if we want to attract people from better paid professions, there can be little doubt that this issue requires closer inspection somewhere down the line.
The UK is facing the largest public deficit in its history and remarkable political conditions both domestically and externally. One only needs to think of the Arab spring, the rise of the East, the future of the euro, and the unique constitutional situation in the UK to realise that we might actually need politicians who know a thing or two.
You have to ask what sort of person would choose this career. Think about it for a moment. You manage to be selected by an association against the odds, fight the seat and win more of less based on the fortunes of your party, you then attempt to represent your constituents to the best of your ability whilst at the same time trying to be recognised by the party as the next bright, young thing. You then make it into office; maybe as a PPS, maybe more. Then you think you might make the cabinet, only for a scandal to break. Maybe a photo with somebody undesirable, or a comment made in jest and oops, all over. And for what?
Don’t get me wrong, I find the world of Westminster fascinating and wouldn’t change it one bit. Why have a boring European style parliament filled with people who could hardly be described as ‘characters’.
There are very many MPs who go unnoticed, staying up late during the week, unable to see their family and friends because they feel a sense of public duty. I know that politicians have and always will attract negative criticism, but put yourself in their shoes for a moment and ask; would you want that lifestyle?
British politics has been through a bumpy stage, yet when one looks at Parliaments across the world who emulate our style of politics, or who still have the horsehair wigs and Hansards, you begin to realise that we have got some things right.
Anthony Pickles is a Parliamentary researcher and a Conservative activist. He tweets at @antpickles
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