Monday, December 24, 2007

MPs' pay

Yet another discussion of MPs' pay seems to have been doing the rounds, with Timmy and The Englishman having picked up on Iain Dale's post.

I would like to take issue with one aspect of Iain's post.
Relatively junior managers in industry or the public sector now command salaries in excess of what MPs earn.

This is, with all due respect, absolute cobblers. You could, I suppose make the case for the fact that a senior manager—working, by the way, about 240 days a year—earns £60,000 or so, but MPs are not paid £60,000.

No, MPs are paid £60,000 plus expenses for a mere 160 days' work a year. These expenses routinely climb year on year and this year averaged some £136,000. I would therefore contend that MPs are actually paid nearly £200,000 plus, of course, a very generous final salary pension scheme (which NuLabour—by dint of being utter fucking wankers of the very first water—have now ensured is denied to the vast majority of the population).
MPs are in an absolutely no-win situation here. If they speak out in favour of higher salaries they are accused of having their noses in the trough. If they don't they are doing a disservice to their successors, and ensuring that good people won't even bother trying to be MPs. And then we are left with a Parliament full of duds, under achievers and bores. Or have we already got there?

Yes, we have already got there and despite the fact that we pay MPs really quite generously; being an MP has become a career path, rather than a public service, and so we end up with the dross and the crap who can't actually make £60,000 plus £136,000 expenses in their normal professions.

Now, I tend to come down on Timmy's side in this argument.
The value of any job in a market economy is set by supply and demand. We have a (relatively) fixed demand for MPs. Some 630 or so (roughly, isn’t it?).

At the last general election some 3,000 people stood for one of those seats. Some will say that some were markedly unqualified (from Monster Raving Loonies to Trots of various types) but this isn’t, in a democracy, a valid position to hold. Any and every one of us is qualified to be an MP: that’s what rule by the people means.

So as we have 3,000 qualified applicants for some 600 jobs, clearly, we are overpaying those who do it. MPs pay should therefore be cut, radically.

However, my reason for supporting this position is a little different to Timmy's.
  • MPs have far too much fucking time on their hands, with the result that they have to come up with more and more legislation.

  • Under our Common Law principle—under which everything is legal unless specifically legislated to be illegal—almost all legislation leads, by definition, to less freedom.

  • Thus—if we are actually interested in liberty, rather than democracy (which we should be)—we should ensure that MPs have as little time on their hands to legislate.

  • If MPs are having to spend the vast majority of their time earning a living doing something else, then they will have less time to spend taking away our freedoms.

But, tell you what: instead of MPs deciding how much they should be paid (which, effectively, they do) how about we put it to the people—let's see what value the electorate put on our oh-so-very-valued representatives? In other words, why don't we let the voters decide how much MPs should earn?

I'm willing to bet that the answer will be something along the lines of "a lot less than they do currently."


Anonymous said...

Shoot the fucking lot of 'em and leave us to get on with it. Would we miss them? Would we fuck.

Happy Christmas everyone (except MPs and Guardian readers, who you can fuck off as well).

mitch said...

I caught an old episode of Yes Prime Minister a week or so ago and they were doing the civil service pay award and Hacker ended up with his nose in the trough.It may be 30yrs old but it is so up to date.
Shoot em all let the Devil torture em more!!

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

No, MPs are paid £60,000 plus expenses for a mere 160 days' work a year.

I'll come out and disagree with you on this one, DK.

MPs only sit in Parliament for that duration. During recess they are meant to go back to their constituencies to do work locally. Now, I can't speak for all MPs, and I can see that some will make the word 'meant' the operative in this instance, but I know that there are MPs who do do this.

If MPs spent all of their time in Parliament, there would probably be an outcry over them being even more detached from the real world in their Westminster bubble all the time.

As they are representatives of a local constituency to Parliament, they are entitled to spend time on local matters in the area concerned- constituents cannot always meet with their representatives in Westminster.

MPs have far too much fucking time on their hands, with the result that they have to come up with more and more legislation.

There are MPs who will work 60+ hours a week, which for anybody is quite a strain, especially when the majority of these MPs are 'elected social workers', doing trivial case work that really ought to be dealt with by their local councillors.

Then there is the issue that not all MPs are dreaming up legislation- some are in opposition, remember (although, granted, you wouldn't necessarily know it when you look at Cameron's record of opposition to the Government's programme. I suspect that is more out of not keeping his eye on the ball than anything else.)? It takes time for some of those backbenchers to go over and pull apart the Government's programme (and those backbenchers do exist).

I think the problem we have is that the package offered, whilst initially attractive to you and me, is not necessarily attractive to the broad calibre of people we would like to see stand for election. Instead, it's a salary that's in excess of what a politico special advisor would normally get (or, perhaps more poignantly, a trade unionist), and so is quite attractive to them to make the jump from SpAd to MP. It's not the sole selling point for some of them, but it sweetens it somewhat.

I'm vehemently against wasting our money (or even spending it, full stop), but in the interests of getting the right people interested, I feel it's worth a shot. Then it is in our interests to make sure the people are available and willing to stand for election and do the job that we expect them to. I feel exactly the same about councillors- where I live, it only seems to attract the elderly retired, deranged and those looking to climb the greasy pole. By far the most are the elderly retired. Admittedly, a few are working people, driven by a desire to do something positive (although we all know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions). There are few people who have the stamina or care for working 15+ hours a week (for that is the average) on council business, having to attend meetings where nothing goes on and decisions are left in the hands of unelected officers. Most people, I like to think, just want to get things done.

I would much rather we had a 100% remunerations increase for councillors and reduced the amount of shit the officers (and central government) make them deal with if it increased competition for candidacies and attracted people of relatively sound mind and intelligence who could look at a balance sheet and realise "fuck! We're haemorrhaging money here!" rather than the "it's okay... we'll just raise Council Tax" mindset that is so prevalent.

I think there's also something a self-fulfilling prophecy when we talk about 'snouts in the trough'. If that meme is engendered often and ubiquitously, then there is the real danger that people are turned off from politics, leaving it to the politicos and those who do not live in the real world. I like to have a dark sense of humour about it all, but being serious, if we are to move forward with what we want as libertarians, we need to be a bit more optimistic about what can be achieved- how the political process can be a force for good, if we can take charge of it.

Umbongo said...


Unfortunately, for your argument there is about zero correlation between paying these drones more and improving the quality of the drones we get in Parliament: I suspect the same would be true of local councillors. For most of these parasites it's a career, not a vocation you come to after half a lifetime doing something productive in the wider world. Yes, some of the MPs are assiduous in their work on behalf of their constituents but as for keeping the executive in check - their main justification for being paid - forget it: governmental MPs rarely vote against a whip: "opposition" MPs would rather cut their own throats than vote against any of Dave's pale reflections of Brown's policies.

Take away the career structure and you might get back to public spirited individuals working mainly for their constituents. Reinforce the career structure - as you appear to favour - and you get the present shower or worse. For an example look at MEPs or the European equivalents of our MPs: a more worthless collection of parasitic shits it would be hard to imagine.

verity said...

As often as I clash with him, I have to back MU on this, Umbongo.

The reason being, you wouldn't be paying more money to the usual suspects. With better compensation, compensation that competes with the private sector, as they do in Singapore, you get a different level of competence, daring and foresight in your people standing.

The PM of Singapore, population around 4m, gets the equivalent of US$2m a year. The cabinet, which is similarly competent and has similar powers of planning and problem solving, is similarly rewarded. Singapore is, in fact, run like a large, highly successful corporation with long-term corporate planning.

Everything works, all the time. The port on this tiny island is third after Rotterdam and New York and it is busy 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Its oil refining capacity is second only to Texas. This was all planned by highly intelligent people who would have been in private industry had the government not decided to attract the best minds by compensating them on the same level as the private sector.

There are no jobsworths like Harriet Harman, Jack Straw, Gordon Brown, Heather Blears and all the rest of these unmemorable incompetents. And I guarantee you, no one in Singapore has ever lost millions of data.

MatGB said...

"No, MPs are paid £60,000 plus expenses for a mere 160 days' work a year. These expenses routinely climb year on year and this year averaged some £136,000. I would therefore contend that MPs are actually paid nearly £200,000"

Bollox DK, and I've told you this before (I think the last few times this came up). Business turnover does not equal proprieter profit. The same applies in this case. Renting an office in the constituency, travelling to and from both places of work (in some cases across the entire country twice a week), paying staff to run both Westminster and constituency office, are all legit expenses.

Should the workload of MPs be reduced? Yes, a lot should be devolved back to councillors, but until such time as that's done, Westminster makes all the decisions so the MPs have to do the fucking work.

When we get properly decentralisation, we can reduce both the workload and the number of MPs.

Other legitimate expenses are, for example, hosting and paying for web services. How much is WebCommons trying to get out of the MPs? £1300 minimum, isn't it?

MU and Verity are right, the quality of most MPs is shit, give us an electoral system that encourages real competition and real choice, and reduce the funding/publicity system so that parties aren't effectively required to put up one candidate per seat, and it'd be better. Tim's figures are arse because of this, yours are arse because you're conflating two separate things.

There's a massive problem with the quality of our representatives, and careerist aparatchiks are a serious problem. But we sole this by sorting out the whole outdated mess and improving the selection process, not by making the choice even more reduced.

I want my MP to be one of the smartest people living in my area. But if you reduce their renumeration to below that of the decent professions, you'll end up with more Blears, Ushers and Spam Cams, not less.

verity said...

MatGB - D'acuerdo. Pay the going rate for top brains and top talent and top brains and top talent will apply. I would argue that it really doesn't matter how much you have to pay - especially at cabinet level - to get the top talent. The country will reap the benefits in much improved management.

A flyboy like Tony Blair, a chippy, touchy,inadequate oik like Brown and Harman and all the rest of the scum around the Westminster bath tub could never get a job if they were competing against the brains,managerial ability and savvy that top dollar attracts.

BTW, maybe an idea whose time is coming: perhaps the electorate ought to be able to sack incompetent and/or dishonest (Hi, Tony!) prime ministers on the internet. It could be a kind of rolling vote (although no one could vote twice) with people clicking on 'Sack Him Now' when angered by incompetence or dishonesty. When the votes reached the tipping point, whether over a week, a month, six months, whatever, that PM would be deemed sacked.

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

Unfortunately, for your argument there is about zero correlation between paying these drones more and improving the quality of the drones we get in Parliament: I suspect the same would be true of local councillors.

That's an evidence-based assertion?

It seems you make my point for me that as it stands, the electoral system attracts those who are career-minded. Hence, why not try to reform it as an electoral system that rewards those who recognise the risk and opportunity of being an elected representative? Bright people who aren't necessarily civic-minded (an amoral issue, personally) need to find a good reason to make the effort.

I should add that my comments are not aimed cross the board at SpAds, as I know there are some excellent people out there who are good at their jobs and have best interests at heart. I think a lot are driven by a sense of belonging to the political class or bureaucratic layer, though.

verity said...

MU mentions "Bright people who aren't necessarily civic minded ..." - yes, but, other than the socialists, most people are patriotic and want the best for their country, even if they're not particularly civic minded.

Paying top corporate salaries to the top "corporate" officers of the country would bring in more centre right people who can attract high compensation and don't want to sacrifice it to serve. I say, fine. Let's be pragmatic here.

Once a skillful, competent centre right in control of the reins, and our country prospered and became lawful, educated and middle class/aspirational working class again, I think the socialists would have a job ever getting back in.

Singapore has proved that it can be done. People complain about the government (hold the front page!), but, barring something unforeseen and very grave, I cannot see them ever voting the PAP out of power. They have performed with such skill and created such wealth and people know when they're well off. No one cares how much Lee Hsien Loong and other government ministers are paid.

Umbongo said...


1. For some indication that more money does not imply better candidates/better service, look at our wonderful civil service. The top wo/men are paid (more or less) in line with private industry and we get gross incompetence right across the board. Look at local authorities: does the advent of 6-figure sums for the top executives translate into better service? Look at the police: chief constables have generous 6-figure salaries and I don't think anyone (not certifiably insane or in fear of losing their job) would say that policing has improved.

2. I know little about Singapore: however, I do know that it is a "guided" democracy. The administration may be efficient but there's no chance the party in government will be shifted from power soon (or ever). You might want to read this which should give you cause for thought.

3. I still say that a career structure for MPs is a gift to the party leaders - not the electorate - who will control their careers. MPs are elected to represent us: their main function is to control the executive - this they fail to do: and they'll fail to do it at £160,000/year. I do not want MPs (even Verity's bright ones) who are in it for the money.

Anyway I'm off to a midnight service. Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year to you all (excluding MPs of course)

MatGB said...

@ Umbongo: That's precisely why we need to reform the way MPs are elected so that they go back to representing us to them, and not actually be them.

The system is faulty, has been pretty much since Labour last changed it in 1947, and needs another update.