Monday, 11 May 2009

MP's money

Difficult to believe in the current climate, but the idea that MP's should be paid a wage was once a progressive one. It enabled ordinary working people, like Keir Hardie, to enter parliament and so broke the monopoly of the political class, landowners and business men, whose 'private incomes' freed them for the need to earn a living.

Although under the current Tory set up, the toffs in the form of Cameron and Boris, are making something of a comeback, the new version of the political class is nowadays that of careerist apparatchiks - as equally divorced from the vast majority of the people they represent as their nineteenth century predecessors.

Whereas there used to be talk of a class that was 'born to govern' (and it wasn't said in a sense of irony) there is now talk of having to attract 'the best and most talented'. This reasoning is behind the argument that MP's must not be underpaid - with the implication that if they are then potential politicians will be tempted away to other fields, or at the very least tempted to top up their salaries by making dodgy expenses claims.

The concept of 'underpaid' is very odd - and one that I have not heard seriously challenged. Underpaid in relation to who ? Certainly not the majority of the electorate, not the average elector and not even public sector middle managers. The benchmark appears to be the most senior professionals in private practice and top management in large corporations. Implicit in this is a naive assumption that the job market is some sort of meritocracy where the most talented are the best paid.

A quick look at the real world would disprove this: At my workplace the highest paid group are not skilled craftsman, nor senior mangers with responsibilities, but salesmen whose skill set is primarily schmoozing, brown-nosing and bullshitting. I am sure that anybody could find similar examples in their own lives - and I haven't even mentioned teachers or nurses.

So why do so many people accept that MP's should be amongst the highly paid ? In all the talk of MP's salaries and their abuse of expenses hardly anyone seems to be arguing that it is a privilege to be a representative of the people and - dare I say it - an element of sacrifice is to be expected. And even fewer have made the glaringly obvious suggestion that MP's should take only the average wage of the people they represent so as to stay in touch with them and so prevent the growth of that new 'political class'.

And finally - back to those salesmen at work: it is 'within the rules' for them to put in expenses claims for pencil sharpeners and erasers. But at the same time it is generally accepted that for a highly paid individual to make such petty claims is a bit demeaning and marks them out as a bit of an arsehole - so they don't do it. It comes to something when salespeople have more sense of shame than our elected representatives.

No comments: