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.