Imagine that you’re working for a large UK based organisation and that you’re the regional manager for somewhere outside London. The organization’s Head Quarters is in London, and you have to spend a lot of time traveling up and down from London to your region. Although you get expenses, the hours are long, but you find the job rewarding and are generally agreed to be doing a good job by the people in your area.
However, the CEO is taking the organization in a way you disagree with, his deputy has just been revealed as having an affair with his secretary, and senior management are at loggerheads over when the Chief Financial Officer should take over as CEO. The company’s in paralysis and the shareholders are getting restless. After the CFO finally takes over, he calls an EGM to gain shareholder support. Instead, the shareholders fire the new CEO, and replace him with a younger candidate from outside the company. The shareholders also decide that you should go, so you can be replaced by an appointee of the new CEO.
In the business world, you’d have a case for unfair dismissal. In the world of the Labour MP in the marginal constituency that the Tories are targeting, you’re a victim of the democratic process.
And this is something that needs to be considered when discussing MPs salaries. It’s not exactly a stable position for many MPs – unless you’re a Tory in Brentwood or Witney, or a Labour MP in Hartlepool or Hull. General elections are usually about the party you represent rather that the profiles of local candidates. People going to the polls are as likely to cast their vote based on whether they want your party leader running the country than they are on your own merits. Circumstances beyond your control can result in you becoming unemployed after four years of doing the job, even if it is agreed that you did it very well.
According to the National Statistician the average wage in England last year was in the region of £23,000. An MP’s salary comes in at about £59,000, which is certainly a bit nicer. This can lead to accusations that it’s a cushy well paid job, and that MPs are paid too much. In reality however, while it makes for easy politician bashing headlines, it’s actually not a hugely outrageous sum.
As noted on Conservative Home recently, it has been calculated that candidates may end up paying out as much as much as £41,000 to fight an election, and often candidates have to fight an election in safe seats for other parties before having a crack at the winnable seats. As you can’t write off election expenses against tax, this means if you write off the costs of winning the seat over the first four years you’re in parliament, you end up with an effective salary of £42,000 for that term. And although you can now claim back some expenses that you can’t claim as a candidate, you’re still expected to put your hand in your pocket for raffles and campaigning expenses if you want to stay on after four years. That salary isn’t looking quite so generous now.
The other issue with comparing MPs salaries to average salaries is this. Do we really want an average guy in the Commons, or do we want a talented one? This may seem elitist, but if you’re a shareholder in a company, you want good managers to run your company so that it can maximize the return to you. Surely the same is true of our country – if we want talented individuals to enter parliament, we have to expect to pay them a reasonable salary. While money should not be the only motivation to enter parliament, many of our MPs are talented individuals who can (and did) make a good living outside of parliament. People who are successful outside parliament are exactly the sort of people we need in parliament. If they come from lower salaried positions in the public sector (such as teaching), then that reflects well on their sense of public service. In general though, if your MP isn’t worth that money outside parliament, then stop voting for them (this especially applies to people in John Prescott’s constituency).
Even though their salaries represent an easy target, many MPs do not have inherent job security and their talents would be better rewarded elsewhere. MPs do have to make huge commitments, both in terms of money and time, before even reaching the green benches and there are no guarantees of making it. Once there, they are often expected to spend long hours traveling between their constituency and Westminster, with knock on effects on their family life. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be “Are MPs paid too much?” but “Are they paid enough?”