The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) announced last week that it will recommend that Members of Parliament receive an 11% pay rise to take effect following the 2015 general election. This measure would raise the annual salary for an MP to £74,000 a year whilst altering other areas of their remuneration package. The ensuing commentary has centred around whether MPs should get an increase or whether their pay should remain constant.
Though this is not about bashing MPs, it is perhaps laughable that one quoted reason for this IPSA recommendation was that two-thirds of them consider themselves underpaid. This is about paying a fair wage for people to perform public service, not about a comparative wage for what they might earn in another profession. It is time this issue, which is always emotive and seldom out of the headlines, be examined differently. I believe MPs pay should be on the same level as the average earner. Last year, the average salary across London (surely it is fair to match this?) amounted to £653 per week in 2012 or around £34k per annum. This would be a good starting point.
Those who play devil's advocate to this approach will cite clichés such as, "if they don't get paid well no-one will want to do it." Or "to attract the top talent you need to pay them in-line with other similar jobs." These stances are questionable. Many industries attract dedicated, intelligent and hard-working individuals with an expectation that they will not earn much over the average wage. Exemplar industries such as Fashion, the arts and charitable organisations all attract large numbers of highly qualified workers for roles even though they could probably earn more in the private sector. These industries attract such talent because they are prestigious industries to work in. People aren't initially attracted to politics for the money. They want to rule. They may want to improve the way countries work, or make people's lives better. A better calibre of politician would be attracted if they were paid the average national salary, a wider cross-section of the population could relate and perhaps be willing to stand themselves.
Some say anecdotally that MPs should be paid to a certain amount because they want 'a level of professionalism' or the 'best people standing'. This is a bizarre approach when in fact being an MP is a job that does not require any qualifications. I would prefer my member to be someone who seeks to adequately represent the interests of their constituency and who votes conscientiously than someone who has a high level of qualification. Some very influential and long-lasting politicians were not and are not university educated; Winston Churchill, Aneurin Bevan, Dennis Skinner, John Major and Alan Johnson to name some high-profile examples. Would they have declined to enter a career in politics if they were more qualified? Unlikely.
There is a perception that MPs work very hard and need to attend a great many events and meetings out of normal office hours. In most cases this is surely true. However, many public sector professions work a long week with out of hours commitments. In addition, they do require a high level of qualification though they may not be compensated to anything close to the same level as MPs.
If Members earned a similar amount other public servants like Nurses or Teachers for example they could never be accused of being out of touch. Nor would they be.
Don't believe me? Take the example of the Uruguayan President Jose Mujica. He gives away 90% 0f his salary to charity and still believes he earns more than he needs to. He also refuses to live in the presidential residence in favour of living in his old farm house. Mujica demonstrates that some politicians want to rule to improve citizens' lives. I hope at least one MP will mimic the Mujica approach and regulate their own salary through charitable donation. Imagine the headlines if Jeremy Hunt agreed to live on a Nurse's salary or Michael Gove on that of a Teacher, or indeed most coveted of all, Iain Duncan Smith could live on £53 a week worth of benefits.
This proposal is a win for all concerned. The people feel they can relate to their leaders. Some of the ego is removed from politics, and by guaranteeing that earnings remain constant with the national average there would be no shortage of people still wanting to be politicians based solely on a noble desire to govern.
For the benefit of society and the people they elect it is time some financial humility was attached to office holders. And if MPs still want to get rich they can still publish a book or become a consultant at the end of it all. That is a privilege very few other average professions guarantee.