What is the purpose of a Member of Parliament? The website parliament.co.uk states that MPs are elected by the UK public to represent their interests and concerns in the House of Commons, consider new laws and ask questions of government ministers about current issues and public policy. In a nutshell, MPs are public servants.
The role of the MP is singular. It differs at its core from jobs within the private sector and therefore demands fundamentally different motivations from holders of the position. There can be similarities and skill set overlaps with private sector jobs, but MPs are not elected to chase profits for a company or climb the greasy pole for personal enrichment. Not that employees can’t be dedicated or self-sacrificing or to disparage the important roles that businesses play in society, but MPs and private sector workers have distinct functions that should not be held up against each other when considering salaries; even more so as the benefits and privileges that sitting in Parliament grant the individual also distinguish the post from other jobs.
There are vital reasons why MPs should not receive a pay rise that takes their salaries further above the national average as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has recommended, even if there is a compromise on their gold-plated pensions. It would insult the public, set a poor example in these austere times, damage the reputations of MPs yet further following the expenses scandal and the current cash-for-questions outrages, but, and most importantly, it would increase the risk of attracting the wrong type of candidate to the post.
When it comes to representing your country as an MP, the old adage ‘if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’ as one senior MP remarked to justify the current proposed raise, does not apply. Granted, some politicians are independently wealthy but current MP salaries are well above the national average and not low enough to prevent those who wish to work hard for their constituents and improve the country from standing for election.
The crux is, anyone wishing to become an MP should not be in it for the money, although the current salary and perks are not to be sniffed at. In fact, it is precisely that kind of self-serving attitude that should be discouraged from entering politics at all. Attracting the ‘best’ candidates to the role of MP does not necessarily mean attracting the ‘best’ from the private sector or offering the highest salary, but rather, attracting the best attitude.
Sitting in Parliament is not the same as sitting in a boardroom trying to generate profits and bonuses. Issues of fairness, prudent custodianship, attempting to govern for the greater good and implementing long-term policies that will also benefit future generations and foster sustainability are crucial in government, not just responsible practices in business. That is not to say that all business leaders are avaricious monsters with no moral conscience or that some would not make good MPs or bring valuable skills; it’s just that the core motivations of our MPs should be broader than lobbying, getting paid or their nest eggs, things which seem to be growing priorities to a lot of MPs judging by recent revelations.
It is also essential that MPs set an example and show solidarity with those who have placed them in their positions of power and privilege, not put themselves in situations where they could be seen to have their ‘snouts in the trough’. There are MPs to be praised and admired; there are others who conduct themselves in a more dubious fashion.
Whilst serving the country is reward in itself, it would be naïve and exclusive to suggest that MPs should not be remunerated for the work they do. However, a straight comparison with private sector wages in the name of attracting the ‘best’ candidates is a spurious argument. The benefits of being an MP are unique and wide: the salary for a backbench MP is already over sixty thousand pounds annually, additional incomes are permitted from owning companies, sitting on boards and non-executive salaries whilst serving as an MP and the pension accrued is over-generous and protected (although this may be conceded if this pay rise is implemented).
An MP’s family often benefits from their being in Parliament through jobs or association with them and MPs make valuable connections and can become experts in certain fields whilst serving, leading to highly lucrative consultancy jobs and directorships post-Parliament, and dare I mention expenses. These considerable perks along with the satisfaction of public service should be factored into any comparisons with private sector salaries, if such inappropriate comparisons have to be made at all.
Anyone embarking on a political career for personal gain rather than a desire to improve society and the country, thereby helping their constituents, would not appear to have the motivations most conducive to making a good MP. Although backbenchers get paid less than ministers, most of the rest of the country either manage or struggle by on considerably less than junior parliamentarians receive, and without any of the perks, expenses or networking benefits.
Crucially, and bizarrely, Ipsa has recommended the increase despite admitting there is no evidence that the current level of pay has affected the quality of candidates standing for Parliament. Perversely, increasing MP’s salaries at this point and by such a large amount would not only be unjustifiable and contemptuous of the electorate but could actually lead to a decline in the standards of candidates seeking election.
The arguments presented in this article may not be new, but they seem to be in particular danger of being sidelined at present. There is, however, one comparison that can be made with the private sector. If employees work hard, are honest and are good at their job this is generally recognised and they will be rewarded with a promotion and/or pay rise. If MPs want a pay rise, they should be diligent, offer sensible policies and conduct themselves in an honest and decent fashion, then they might just win an election and keep their job or gain a ministerial position, thus getting a pay rise because they deserve it.