Friday, 5 July 2013

Sticking my neck above the parapet on MPs pay

In general, we treat our Parliamentarians appallingly. Yes, there are one or two bad apples, as there are in every profession, but they are the exceptions. No-one mistrusts doctors because of Harold Shipman nor fear the motives of all teachers due to the actions of Jeremy Forrest. Yet many seem happy to vilify all MPs based on the actions of a few.

The overwhelming majority of MPs, of all parties, are worth their weight in gold. Most work 12 - 15 hour days, and when they return to their constituencies at weekends or holiday they carry on working. One MP I work for has an average of 12 - 20 constituents booked at the weekly advice centre. The 20th constituent receives the same care and attention as the first. When the surgery has finished they move on to a charity event, then more often than not a branch fund raising event, with more of the same on the Sunday. When the public work is finished, there are emails to reply to, letters to sign, briefing papers to read and soothing phone calls to angry supporters to make. Then sometime, exhausted and drained of emotional energy, time with their families and friends. It's not how most of us would choose to spend our 'days off'.

One MP I know has stopped popping into the local pub as every time they did so they were bombarded with complaints. Another goes shopping at 2am to achieve a degree of privacy as a daytime visit to Sainsbury's resulted in someone following them around Tweeting the contents of their shopping trolley. And what is absolutely certain, every MP I know could earn far more money in the private sector than they do in Parliament.

We expect MPs to scrutinise legislation, speak knowledgeable on Bills, deal with hundreds (at times thousands) of letters and emails each week, represent the interests of 100,000 constituents, campaign on issues of local importance, deal with complex casework about tax, immigration and the benefits system, open fetes, judge baby competitions and be active and visible members of the community. Yet we pay them less than we pay less money than is earned by the manager of the local Tesco superstore.

During the expense scandal there was moral outrage that MPs could set their own pay and conditions. The angry fist waiving mob demanded that MPs were stripped of this right and power to set salaries was vested with an independent body. When that was done and the independent body recommended a pay increase, the very same baying mob complain about the outcome of the very process they originally demanded.  Many of those who complain are probably the same people who celebrate when their football club sign a star player who will be paid as much in a week as we pay our MPs in a year.  It is hypocrisy in the worst form.

Having worked closely with dozens of MPs over 30 years I have never understood why anyone would put themselves and their families through such hell. I am sure the job has many attractions or they wouldn't keep on doing it; the ability to improve society, to introduce or amend legislation, to improve the lives of the people who need help most. And for many I am sure the recognition and local celebrity status must also give satisfaction. But overall we should be thankful that so many talented, dedicated and hard working people are willing to give up better paid and less stressful jobs in the private sector and offer themselves to parliament. 

In my view, even after the proposed pay increase, they are worth every penny.

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