Thoughts on MPs pay

The news that Alan Duncan has been forced to apologise for his comments seems to be part of the silly season: though talking to a man who dug up your lawn could be seen to be a little silly itself. It also seems that Ann Main from St Albans has survived for the meantime. Below Pete has a few comments about local expenses; the return of the expenses saga brought me back to a few thoughts I had had a few months ago but had never got round to blogging. Incidentally I have been trying to be a bit less self referential recently but this blog will be more self referential for reasons which will become clear.

Much of the anger directed at MPs is over their large salaries and they are indeed quite large (£64,766) which is rather more than the £24,000 UK average. As such the public are understandably aggrieved when they see MPs promptly claiming large sums in expenses let alone the inappropriate nature of many of the expenses.

Interestingly (and very self referentially) I made about as much money as an MP’s salary last year. Now I regard myself as very well paid: however, that is in part I suspect because my social set and friends earn similar (or often lesser) sums. Some of the wife’s relatives are clearly much richer than us but they do not flaunt their money. Hence, our family’s house, clothes, holidays etc. are not significantly better or worse than those of our friends and relatives: our cars are much worse but that is because I cannot face paying huge sums to replace my old wrecks when they work perfectly well. However, if I moved in social circles with very rich people who lived in massive houses, wore very expensive clothes, drove very fancy cars, frequently ate in top restaurants and went on massively expensive holidays, I might feel poorer.

I would submit that MPs do tend to meet with bankers, business tycoons, media celebrities and such like who are not modestly well off like they, the MPs are, but instead are massively wealthy. In addition the MPs frequently have some power over these people yet they have vastly less money. Hence, the MPs may feel much poorer than they are and that this is unfair (when actually it is not). Added to that then is the fact that the expenses system offered the ability to increase their salaries by a very considerable margin with apparently relatively little oversight and one has all the ingredients to encourage the self inflicted disaster which has befallen our MPs.

In no way am I excusing what has happened but I wonder if the above in part helps explain how people who were probably originally fairly honest took part in what appears to be an extremely corrupt misuse of the system.

The question of what should be done is of course an even more vexed one. We could pay MPs vastly more money (say £150,000 or more) and abolish the expenses system but that would be extremely unpopular. In addition even those sums of money might not be deemed adequate by some and yet might also attract others for purely financial reasons.

On the topic of financial incentives, I am not entirely convinced that money alone is the major motivator for most people in employment; clearly it is for some but not all. If money alone was the driver surely no talented people would become university academics or vets, both of whom are vastly less well paid than City of London bankers yet for example veterinary medicine is consistently amongst the most difficult courses to get into at university.

The eventual solution to this debacle will probably involve increased pay for MPs, however, as we saw today with David Cameron’s pledge on cutting ministerial pay: any serious attempt to propose significantly increased pay for MPs is not currently real politick.

  • Drumlins Rock

    turgon, do you think camerons way round it will be to cut the no of mps? thereby not actually costing the taxpayer more.

  • “the MPs frequently have some power over these people”

    Turgon, perhaps it’s the other way round; perhaps it’s some of the people of wealth who manipulate some of our MPs.

  • only asking

    Drivel.

    I read the post and gave my opinion. Why was my opinion censored?

  • Turgon

    Nevin,
    Very fair point but it is a two way process. An example is the cash for questions episode. There is the potential for an extremely unhealthy symbiosis (for the rest of us) between rich people and MPs.

  • Turgon, I’ve invited my North Antrim MP to put down a question at Westminster. I included no cash. Was that a mistake?

  • michael

    In what situation would your average back-bench opposition or government MP be meeting big bankers, tycoons and media celebs?
    How much time would you suppose these same high-flying riviera back benchers spend in surgeries in their constituencies, tackling requests related to benefit claims, planning permission appeals, NHS waiting lists or potholes?

    If the cohibas puffing tycoon makes them feel impoverished, would the single mother trying to get a little help to escape the damp ‘studio apartment’ not make them feel blessed?

    I don’t buy the rubbing shoulders with the cheeky girls made me fiddle my expenses angle.

    They did what they did because they could. Because it was ‘free money’. Because they did not anticipate a situation where they would have to justify their actions. Because regardless of which side of the house they sat on, they were assured that none of them would ruin a good thing, a scenario as unlikely as the circle jerk of NEDs in the finance industry criticising one other.

    At the end of the day, the real effect of the ‘scandal’, on the re-election chances for our local heroes is probably next to null.

  • United Irishman

    Turgon – I am not a politician or connected to, or with, any political party – but IMO Mp’s salaries will need a massive up-lift – probably 100% increase.

    The problem is not that “ their large salaries and they are indeed quite large” it is because you, like others, perceive them so – that is the problem. Jealousy is the other.

    Pay peanuts… get monkeys….

    Set the rate at £150k pa, plus say £150 per day attendance – with no pensions or any other perk with the annual adjustment (increase/decrease) linked to – the GDP, employment, crime rate, health standards etc performance indicators.

    The electoral should them hold them fully accountable etc – only then we will get the best brains to run the country – not the current bunch of motley fools.

    Don’t be fooled, Cameron, Lb Dems and others are playing politics for electoral advantage.

    Locally, the same can be said of the UU/CUP/UPC Force or what ever Sir Reg (empty head) calls it these days or DUPed-Alistair (not the principled man some think) – just ask him to show you his real travel expenses vs the actual – will he tell you – not a chance. That said Alistair is a very accomplished politician that could cut it in any political arena.

    The corrupted expenses system has made crooks out of, in the main, decent people and we all with the mob are baying for blood – in the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ “let him that is without sin cast the first stone”