The spectre of corruption can lurk in all areas of life, but nowhere is it more rancid than when it lingers around democratic politics. In a single-party despotic regime, graft is part of the game. You only need to look east to Russia to see the results when no one is guarding the guards.
In a democracy we expect better. Government is, at least notionally, by the people and for the people. If our elected representatives are sniffing around for extra financial gain rather than doing their job (exactly what that should be is a whole separate topic for debate), are they really the kind of people that we want conducting our politics? Isn't there a further danger of government by wealthy interests who buy influence rather than for the greater good of the people?
The answers to each of those questions are obvious.
Yet before we cry that all politicians must be self-denying types who're prepared to serve their country whilst being paid the minimum wage, there are some compelling arguments that our representatives do deserve to be relatively well salaried.
Might paying our MPs more be the best way to make them behave?
Searching for Goldilocks
A couple of assertions first, then: most of us want to earn a good wage to support our families and to enjoy a comfortable standard of living. Presumably we also want our politicians to be intelligent, worldly, talented and diligent. High calibre individuals, all round.
A stint in parliament will not attract such people if they have to take a big pay cut in the process, and we will likely be the worse off because of it. It will leave even more of a vacuum for those who are independently wealthy to move in.
It's true that at £67,000 a year, our MPs aren't badly off compared to the average worker's twenty-something thousand pounds salary. In international terms, however, they earn far less than some of their peers.
Furthermore, being an MP is a dirty job. There's no job security, the hours are rubbish and if you're not in a safe seat then you're usually under a lot of pressure. The danger that the talented simply decide to earn a better living an easier way is acute.
Finding the Goldilocks amount will not be easy.
The Right Recipe
Many people will find the very suggestion of increased pay for MPs galling at a time of public sector spending cuts. That's understandable, even though the cost of paying every MP an extra £20,000, say, is nothing in the grand scheme of things (it equates to £13 million a year).
Any potential increase in their salaries should be wrapped up with a bundle of other reforms. Their numbers could be significantly reduced as part of achieving greater parity in constituency sizes, and it would be the right moment to implement more restrictions on other forms of income that can prove so tempting and so corrupting. MPs and ministers could be banned from lucrative jobs as lobbyists when their parliamentary careers ended so that there were no efforts to curry favour with potential employers.
That's not to say that MPs should be sealed off from the rest of working life. After all, people often complain about the existence of professional politicians. Does it make sense, then, to make representatives cut all connections with their previous working lives when they enter the Commons? There is a value to MPs retaining interests in small businesses and some other lines of pre-political work, so long as it doesn't interfere with their judgement. There is already talk of a % cap of money from outside interests being implemented.
Earning their Porridge
Re-imagining what it is to be an MP and how we expect them to behave is an important step for the health of our democracy in order to avoid future corruption scandals.
In a funny way, paying them more might actually improve the standard of our politics.Back to news