By Hugh Ash
E XCUSE me sir/madam, but I’d like to give you some dosh. It’s around £7,600 – €9,000 or thereabouts – and there’s nothing funny about the money, because it comes from that most unsullied of sources: the British tax-payer.
What! You don’t want it, because apparently it’s an 11% pay rise just at a time when most of the hoi-poloi are stretched to near bankruptcy on the rack of austerity. What’s more, accepting it would look...er, embarrassing.
But you’re an MP, for heaven’s sake. You’re a gravy-train cruiser, so why break the habit of a lifetime? At this rate, you’ll be swapping your Savile Row threads for sackcloth and demanding BBC1 televises the entire cast of the House of Commons whipping their naked buttocks in a Lenten purge at Westminster Abbey.
Now I know I’m probably in a minority of one of this, but I believe MPs should take the largesse they’ll be awarded in 2015 by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) with magnanimity, not mock indignation.
I well understand, though, that the great British public thinks boosting their stipends from around £66,000 per annum to over £74K is scandalous.
That’s because politician-bashing is the one sport we Brits excel at nowadays – apart from shove-ha’penny down my local, where I defy even the Germans to best us – and predictably the Press echoed the populist theme, with banner headlines shrieking ‘Shocking’, ‘Disgraceful’ and ‘The Wages of Sin’.
So, in an act of contrition bordering on self-immolation, in waded the MPs, huffed on by Squire Cameron (£142,500 p.a. + free digs and motor) and his pet serf, Clegg,
(£134,565 + chauffeured limo), who said he was so proud to be Deputy Dawg, he’d do the job for nothing.
As both are multi-millionaires, an extra few thou would hardly cover the bill for re-stocking a bin in the wine cellar with a few cases of Chateau Latour ready for the Yuletide rush.
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband (£132,387 + perks) led a chorus of the righteous Left by calling for cross-party talks to stymie the parliamentary watchdog’s insult to members’ over-inflated opinion of their integrity.
You’d think the cash was contaminated by anthrax, because, in my memory never before have so many of the nation’s chosen lined up to distance themselves from a hand-out.
It reminds me of a time when I was hiring a sub-editor, to whom I’d offered the going rate, which then was about £25,000. Despite my protests, he refused to settle and I had to allow him to beat me down to £20,000 before he agreed to start the following month. Talk about tough negotiator.
As now with members, honourable or otherwise, the point is there should be a salary yardstick for any job and it should chime with the ethos of value for money, coupled to talent and desire.
Hence, if you are of the mind that MPs don’t do what it says on their tins, then they aren’t worth what Americans dub a mess of beans, irrespective of what’s in their wage packet.
The constant thorn plaguing their worth, however, is how can it be gauged. GPs, teachers, even us journos, have weighable pay scales, with family doctors and secondary school heads often now receiving in excess of £100,000 p.a.
But wage inflation in parts of the public sector has been rife in recent years and, genuinely, parliamentarians have fallen by the financial wayside.
Once the case was MPs pay was set at 2.25 times the average national wage. So, given today’s guestimate of that is £25K, then the £66,000 they currently trouser would seem bountiful.
But living in London – as they do part or full-time – is increasingly costly and, following the Daily Telegraph lifting the lid on parliamentary expenses scams in 2009, now even the usual suspects are more circumspect about making fanciful claims, like for constructing a duck house or cleaning one’s moat on one’s castle.
An alternative solution would be to link MPs’ remuneration to those in similar circumstances, but that’s likely to ignite further fury. US Congressmen, for instance, receive the dollar equivalent of £126,000 – plus exes British MPs would swim the Atlantic for – while MEPs scoop a basic €96,000 (circa £80,000), along with €304 (£255) a day simply for clocking in.
As regards national legislatures across Western Europe, French senators fair worst, though perks – such as mini-interest mortgages and a penchant for ‘slush’ funds – act as tax-free incentives.
Contrarily, Italian politicos top the pay league, presumably on the basis that ‘bunga-bunga’ parties and nubile companions don’t come cheap.
So, as it transpires, British MPs enjoy middling pay by comparison and many could bag considerably more elsewhere, even if it meant a sacrifice in kudos.
Meanwhile, methinks there’s more than a little posturing, politicking and PR going on in their display of ‘we’re all in this together’ martyrdom.
For a start, in the wake of the Telegraph’s revelations, MPs demanded an impartial arbiter to oversee their conditions of employment and they got precisely that with IPSA.
Now, apparently, it isn’t fit for purpose, forcing some blustering members to act like turkeys voting for Christmas.
However, there are salient caveats in IPSA’s award, which are conveniently lost in the foggy brouhaha: MPs pensions, allowances and golden goodbyes will all be trimmed, reducing the actual cost of running parliament by £2.2-million a year.
I can only imagine some of the most vocal anti-pay rise crusaders – such as lone Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, who seems green in more ways than one – neglected to read IPSA’s small print, before sounding off as holier-than-thou.
So, no, I don’t think £74,000 a year is an indecent sum for an MP to earn and, based on merit, many are worthy of even more.
Besides, in the real world talent follows the money and I’ve no wish to turn the clock back to pre-1911 – before MPs were first paid – when politics was just a rich man’s sport.
I want quality, not quantity and genuine people with deep experience of life to represent me, not a privileged few, for whom parliament is a passport to power and a gong, or spotty nerds, straight up from Oxbridge, who’ve never done a day’s hard toil in their little lives.
If paying MPs an extra 11% achieves those aims, it will be cash well spent.
To read more of Hugh Ash’s comments, follow his award-winning online blog – Views From The Mallorca Pier – at hughash.wordpress.com