UK Liberty

Comedian not being funny about salary of MPs

Posted in accountability, state-citizen relationship by ukliberty on October 26, 2008

David Mitchell in the Observer:

People moan about councils in the same way they moan about the weather – as if there’s nothing they can do to affect it and as if it’s not their fault. But it is our fault: we don’t bother to turn up for local elections very often; when we do we vote on national issues; hardly any of us could name our local councillor; and yet we give these people a vast amount of our money.

We don’t give them our money – it is taken from us in the form of taxes and the government decides how to distribute the largesse.

Essentially, we get exactly the idiots, jobsworths and crooks we deserve. The wonder is not what councils get wrong but that they achieve any level of competence at all. We’ve collectively put a pile of cash in an unlocked garage and have the gall to moan when it doesn’t get spent in the public interest. We’re too bored by local politics to scrutinise it and so when councils screw things up, we should see that as the inevitable consequence of all that extra TV-watching time we’ve bought ourselves.

That’s a fair point – on the other hand we have a legitimate (albeit perhaps irrational) expectation that such people will properly perform their jobs.

The contrast with our attitude to national politicians could hardly be greater. While it’s liberty hall for councillors to lose all our money in Iceland and give building contracts to their brothers in law, MPs just can’t catch a break. We’ve always paid them poorly (and when I next hear someone say: ‘Well, they earn a lot more than me!’ I swear I will reply: ‘Well, I want them to be a damned sight cleverer than you!’) but now they can’t even eat a few free meals or give an admin job to a relative.

Hang on:

  • Salary of MP: £61,820
  • median gross weekly earnings nationally (2007): £23,764

That’s before we start talking about pensions, expenses, supplements, interests (example) and so on, and special jobs in Parliament.

And imagine if you and your colleagues were allowed to vote on your salaries and allowances! (example, example).

Of course, your salary is probably set by the market, not by yourself and your mates.

We are chipping away at their perks: expenses claims are quoted in humiliating detail, right down to the junior minister’s last pair of rubber underpants; they can’t take so much as an olive on a stick from an oligarch without declaring it. And only last week, they were being criticised for Parliament taking a 24-day Christmas break, as if, out of respect for the credit crunch, they should be spending the entire period passing uplifting festive laws.

I fail to see why we expect anyone normal with any prospects to do this job.

Quite… so, who is doing it…

… only the truly power-crazed, those who will forsake comfort, privacy and the respect of their peers for the thrill of authority …

(And I suppose, to be fair, those with a genuine sense of public duty, but that’s hardly to be relied upon.) Of course, many of our leading politicians hardly seem deserving of more cash and freebies but, had more cash and freebies been on offer, more capable people may have jostled them out of power.

Capable of what, exactly?  Capable of running the country, or capable of politicking?

People capable enough to become our national leaders, in any functional system, shouldn’t have to take that shit from a playboy. They should be sufficiently well rewarded that their heads aren’t so easily turned and, if we need to give them a yacht each to ensure that, it’s money well spent in my book and a tiny percentage of what we allow councils to waste every year simply because the leaflets that come through the door are too boring to read.

Does Mitchell really think our ‘leaders’ are capable, in the same sense as (for example) Sir Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco?

What sort of capabilities do we want from our ‘leaders’? The ability to read legislation and a sense of duty to read it, or the ability to be a humanzee-fearing lickspittle toady who will vote for anything put in front of him? (Yes Labour MPs, with the exception of about 20 of you, I am looking at you. But not just you.)

(No, not all MPs are the same – some of them are actually quite good.  And no, it isn’t solely about scrutinising legislation but also helping out constituents.)

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