Molly Guinness

There’s nothing ‘normal’ about turning down a pay rise

There's nothing 'normal' about turning down a pay rise
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The MPs grandstanding about how they’ll give any salary increase to charity should all be ashamed of themselves. The entire point of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is to take away self-regulation from politicians. It’s frankly none of their business to decide how much they’re paid, and the cries of protest are specious anyway given that IPSA has said the pay rise won’t cost taxpayers anything because it’s basically just a restructuring of how they’re paid.

Politics has a terrible image in this country and rather than chorusing ‘we’re not worth it’, it’s about time someone mounted a robust defence of the whole system. The expenses scandal didn’t help, but being holier-than-thou about money matters isn’t the way for politicians to win people over. Poll after poll shows that the main things people don’t like about them are that they’re so alien, and that they can’t seem to resist a bit of point scoring.

There was a vote on increasing MPs’ salaries in 1954, and The Spectator didn’t have much truck then with the uproar of self-righteousness that came with it.

The air still is heavy with the rumblings of Tory consciences. Members who voted for the increase in their salaries are being hauled over the coals by their constituency associations. Yet they should beware of protesting overmuch. Shakespeare has told us what to think of people who have ‘so much of honour in their mouths,’ and the obvious attempts which have been made to manufacture party capital out of the increase inspire little confidence as to the purity of the motives behind the attacks on it…The objectors should now endeavour to stifle the pangs of conscience, however painful this may be. They can always satisfy their honour by refusing the increase individually.

Like it or not, politics is a full-time job these days. In 1965 the Conservative MP Edward Gardner argued that it would be a terrible mistake to make MPs professional.

The need for a majority of part-time members is strikingly clear. Scarcely a subject can be raised in the House that has not a specialist whose knowledge and experience can give authority to the debate… But the most serious danger of insisting on compulsory full-time professional politicians would be the loss of financial independence which comes from earning or being able to earn a living outside the confines and influence of Parliament.

The right of the individual member to refuse his party's whip and to vote according to his conscience safeguards democracy itself…The mere introduction of an all-professional Parliament would not by itself disturb the right of the member to vote against the dictates of his party on fundamental questions of policy. It would, however, imperil and might ultimately weaken the will of members to exercise the right on suitable occasions. An MP with outside interests may sometimes find the demands of his work and Parliament in conflict. An MP without outside interests, with nothing but Parliament to rely upon for the support of himself and his family, may be far worse off, whatever his parliamentary salary. He could find himself having to choose between his conscience and financial ruin.

The former leader of the Liberal Party Jo Grimond didn’t really approve of paying MPs a salary, but accepted it was necessary because the British public didn’t seem to be satisfied with the old-fashioned type of MP, who would have another job and help to keep government to a minimum.

So long as you [the British public], or the organisations, public relations officers and newspapermen who speak for you and in whose activities you acquiesce, bombard MPs to extend government you will get the bureaucratic MP. You will then have to pay him. Not only do people want MPs to be bureaucrats, they want them to be welfare workers into the bargain. They want them to be full-time. They expect them to interfere in matters far outside their official job. I cannot tell how many people really want this, but at any rate the vociferous part of the population do and the dissenting majority, if they are a majority, make no protest.

I still think that it is healthy for Parliament that MPs should look outside it for part of their livelihood. But if we are to sit on innumerable committees, be experts on the vast field of government and act as welfare workers as well, then most of us must be full-time. We must therefore have a living wage.

Unless you’re a member of the Scottish National Party, the road to parliament is a long, hard trek, fraught with uncertainty. Once you’re there you’ll be lucky to find many voters who’ll thank you for your trouble. Worse still, if the reaction to IPSA’s salary recommendation is anything to go by, it looks like the Palace of Westminster is peopled with canting hypocrites trying to outboast each other about how nice they are. Now that politics is a profession, MPs must stop putting off sensible, clever people from considering it as a career.