Thursday, 10 January 2008

The Late Lunch Briefing

Turkey Sandwiches

There is an old political adage that goes turkeys wouldn’t vote for Christmas. Fortunately for the rest of us, turkeys have never had suffrage and our Christmas traditions are still going strong. But suppose they did hold sway over whether we had Christmas or not – the key component of any self respecting Brit’s overflowing Christmas platter would suddenly be in charge and it would almost certainly spell the end of the annual tradition of turkey sandwiches between December 25th and New Year.

Now suppose you could choose how much money you were paid at work? I suspect, even if you were being sensible, the temptation to award yourself a pay rise would just be too much to resist. Of course, no business with ambitions to stay afloat would ever give their employees the chance to set their own salary. It would be madness. So why on earth do our MPs get to do it annually?!

How much is an MP actually worth?

Matt Wardman has written an excellent piece on the annual MP pat on the back with a wad of fivers. He is certainly opposed to the idea that MPs not only get to vote themselves a pay rise, but also get the chance to claim an array of benefits – such as housing. Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper are quids in on this arrangement! Matt poses the interesting question of how much should an MP be paid – he reckons MPs’ salaries should be “linked to - for example - the 90th percentile of the individual salary profile of the population, which would mean that only 10% of the population earned more.” This would mean that they get paid, roughly, £46k (according to David Cole) as opposed to £60k basic they are currently on.

Seeing as the turkeys in Westminster do get to vote for Christmas, I cannot see them taking a £14k pay cut! And I am inclined to say I don’t think they should either. Despite the constant criticism and abuse our MPs are subjected to, and I say this through gritted teeth, they are some of the best political representatives in the world. You may not agree with Michael Gove’s or David Miliband’s politics, but that does not mean to say they deliberately out to do bad for the country – far from it.

Honest Professionals... on the whole.

Our MPs are, on the whole, a genuine bunch who are highly intelligent and deeply passionate. People forget that an MP doesn’t just turn up to Parliament one day and takes his or her seat. They go through an extremely competitive and scrutinised selection process. Once there they are expected to know everything about anything and look after the grievances of their constituents whilst towing a party line. It is not the cushty number that we are often led to believe it is. Having said that, how much are they actually worth?

It is virtually impossible to put a value on it. However, these people would, on the whole, be earning a whole lot more in the private sector I am sure. I do not think that £60k is that unreasonable. Hell, if an estate agent can pick up that sort money in a few months just for introducing a seller to a buyer, I would say they are pretty good value for money. Of course, you cannot compare sectors so easily – if I were knocked down by car I would much rather it was the nurse earning £50k a week than some thug like Joey Barton does at Newcastle Utd.

Monkeys or Turkeys?

It may surprise you that I think we get pretty good value for money for our MPs given my often critical appraisals of them. The self voting pay rise system is not as open to manipulation as you might think. If they started to get silly about pay rises, we can let them know about it in various ways. I do, though, support Gordon Brown's call for restraint in the forthcoming pay vote, particularly as the rest of the public sector is only getting just about an inflationary rise. Admittedly there are some more shady areas that need to be addressed – the expenses gravy train for a start – but like the famous saying goes: if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. I’d rather have a bunch of turkeys thanks.


Matt Wardman said...

>However, these people would, on the whole, be earning a whole lot more in the private sector I am sure.

You need to show me some evidence for that - I don't believe it for the majority of MPs. Last time "redundancy" pay for MPs leaving Parliament was reviewed, the problem of the difficulty of ex-MPs finding jobs was a key justification for an increase.

Also, I think the "pay review implemented at election time then indexed linked for the duration of the Parliament" is an excellent principle you don't mention (I think).


Garbo said...

I have no evidence - but it would impossible to provide evidence because they haven't pursued a career in the private sector. What I meant was that the level of qualification your average MP has attained, the degree of work that they carry out and the responsibility they hold would see them at the higher end of the pay scale in the private sector.

Apologies for not going in to more detail on the alternatives to the way our MPs are paid. I was more focusing on the issue of whether they are worth the money we are currently paying them at the moment. While I do like the principle you mention, my feeling is that the while the system is an anomaly, it ain't broke so why try to fix it?

Matt Wardman said...

>I have no evidence - but it would impossible to provide evidence because they haven't pursued a career in the private sector.

Fair point.

>while the system is an anomaly, it ain't broke so why try to fix it?

I think that the level of conflict - and subliminal political pressure and resentment - imply that elements of the system are broken.

In particular, the annual report and "self-authorisation" and the allowances setup (referring to travel and housing, not to office expenses).

VERY particularly the housing.


Garbo said...

I completely and whole heartedly agree with on the housing issue.