Many an evening spent in the London homestead involves a bit of high-octane debate between myself and two far more qualified and intelligent individuals, those being my ever resilient girlfriend, and old friend and flatmate. I fairly consistently land squarely on the opposing side to both of them, and although it can be lonely on logic and rationality mountain, I do my best to drag them forth from the muck of primeval superstition and falsehoods in the which they dwell.
One of the things that annoys me about these affairs is never being able to remember how we got into them. We aren’t an organised debate club so it had to happen organically, and I suspect it has a lot to do with my boring habit of endlessly droning on about current affairs in about as unpopular a fashion I can. However else were we talking about the intricacies of UK politician’s pay and societal status? Over a well-executed (not by me) rendition of a Jamie’s (logistically impossible) 30-Minute Meal, we conversed.
It goes without saying that politicians, particularly members of the House of the Commons, are the subject of much scrutiny and scepticism. It might even be fair to say that the average person doesn’t have a great amount of patience or respect for them. Admittedly they make life hard for themselves sometimes, be it incompetence, corruption or scandal, but I think the British public give them a pretty hard riding. Myself emphatically included.
Get ready to disagree with me, but the long and short of my argument was that we should pay them more, let them enjoy a few perks and, if only deep down inside, respect them a bit more. Under a few conditions of course, including that there should be far fewer of them, MP’s and Lords, as why on Earth do we have nearly three times as many national legislators as the USA, a country about five times our size. Redraw the constituency maps and suck a few of those arguably competent folk into more regional levels to promote a bit more quality there. Elect the Lords perhaps.
Right, now we have a slightly more reasonable model of government upon which to validate my theory. I’ll start with the respect part. While it may be laughable or frustrating at times to see these politicians stack industrial quantities of ridicule upon themselves, they are above all things the people who turned up. Motivations aside, they offered themselves to the altar of public service, incomprehensible an act as that may be, and were elected by us to run our country.
That is, run a diverse and modern country of approximately 65 million often fickle people in as effective, but adversely as popular, a manner as they can. Their pain is a mammoth news media machine’s bread and butter. I mentioned logistics earlier and that example was one of a only a few things more difficult than the task facing these men and women. It’s an unfathomably difficult thing to do, let alone do well, and I don’t want to try as much as you probably don’t.
This leads to the next part about pay and privilege, factors that I think could be considered sufficiently supported by what I’ve already said. There are more practical than just sentimental elements however. I consider the reasonably standard theory that higher pay attracts higher quality, and argue that at least a little bit more intellectual talent could be stolen from the private sector. A 65k annual MP’s salary, before Cabinet and Select Committee bonuses, is by no means stingy but could be more competitive.
But that’s not even my favourite argument. MPs are regularly bombarded with temptations from private interests, such as lucrative post-public sector career opportunities, in exchange for the inside line. Given how potentially short an MP’s career can be, it would make some sense to recompense them enough to keep them honest in the face of these sultry advances. I also happen to think that entertaining said interests should carry an automatic political death sentence, but it’s slightly off-topic.
The privilege aspect goes back a touch to the sentimental. MP’s may be public servants, but that doesn’t exactly make them our public servants in a very literal sense. They shouldn’t be required to bow and scrape in equal a measure to how they shouldn’t consider themselves unduly elite or authoritative. It goes back to a mutual respect in the contract of being handed whatever authority they possess by the people, in the understanding that we expect them to make very tough decisions. We grant them a heavy responsibility so as to relieve ourselves of it.
I do not give two hoots about MP’s taking a publicly covered taxi to work from inside the city, or having the audacity to send a child to private school if they can afford and want to do so. It doesn’t implicitly cry a lack of faith in the infrastructural or educational institutions of the nation that they are supposedly conducting. Neither does it automatically put them on a sort of pedestal above the rest of us to whom TFL service and the quality of the local catchment school are regular concerns.
Without going on forever, it would be nice to have a political class that reflects the pride we should want to have in our nation’s politics. Whatever it is we’re doing now, clearly does not engineer that kind of a situation and, whether or not you agree with anything I’ve offered as a solution, something needs to change. Thoughts?