What an MP’s job worth?
Quite a lot of MPs think their £66,000 per year basic salary is not enough, and they should get £86,000 or so. I’m not very surprised.
There are three basic camps on MPs’ pay. The first camp maintains that all MPs are thieving bastards and should be paid less. The second camp says that MPs may or may not be thieving bastards but that their pay should be held down so that they are “in touch” with the people they represent.
Then there’s the camp who go with the “to get the right MPs doing that important governing thing really well, you have to pay a good rate, and the current ones’s nowhere near enough. They’re the ones taking the high ground, telling the other two campas they need to be more rational, or at least not Chairman Mao.
Thus Phlilip Blond in assorted tweets:
I meet many brilliant people who should be MP’s low pay is one reason they can’t afford to go for it……………Simply put I think MP’s should be among the best and the brightest – the career is often nasty brutish and short and and low paid……..If you want a 3rd rate democracy with 3rd rate MP’s pay them a wage that’s a third less than public parity would demand…….If your not a Maoist have to account for differences in pay – MP’s one of the top public professions
This pay rise won’t happen, of course. At a time of austerity, few MPs are going to be seen to put their names to an inflation-busting – and headline-courting – salary hike. But the basic principle remains. If we want exceptional people to govern us then we have to pay them a salary commensurate with that. And if we don’t, then we will eventually make politics the private preserve of either those who already have exceptional independent wealth, or those who have little prospect of securing success in other fields.
But the problem with this importance/parity argument is it’s just as irrational as the others they’re so keen to disparage.
For all Blond’s appeal to “parity” with “the top public professions”, there’s actually no comparison being done between the type of work MPs actually do and the type of work these professionals do. Rather, there’s a vague appeal to an ideal of what an MP should do, and then an assumption that you need to be “brilliant” in order to do it.
In fact, the rational way to determine how much to pay MPs would be is to look at what their job entails, and decide what skills and knowledge are needed to perform those tasks, just as we do in lots of walks of life, but especially the public sector. Very roughly, an MP’s job entails:
Managing a small team of paid staff and volunteers, most or all of them highly committed to the cause and with significant skill-sets, although much of this management may be delegated to an office manager;
Digesting analysing significant amounts of information on a range of topics and distilling it into manageable form;
Liaising with management staff in a range of other sectors around specific local or thematic issues, with a combination of development and problem-solving foci;
Maintaining a public profile which enhances the reputation of the MP’s chosen party, including meeting members of the public;
Taking part in formal discussions with guidance from the organisation’s supervisors and voting accordingly;
Reporting back on progress to interested parties within the organisation in both verbal and written form;
Working away during the week and with an expectation of evening meetings.
That’s about it. There are no specialist skills required, and the decision-making process is largely constrained. Compared to a headteacher job, for example – with it’s mix of pedagogical expertise, financial management know-how and conflict-resolution skills – being an MP is a piece of piss.
Being an MP is, to my mind, a £50-60,000 a year job, comparable in role and skill requirement with a CEO of a small-to-medium service organisation, and particularly one in the charitable sector in which the reporting and accountability processes can sometimes require specific aptitude and capacity. So MPs are currently towards the upper end of the salary scale in terms of what their job demand, whether by pure luck or systematic luck. Of course, there are decent prospects for promotion, and becoming a minister brings the financial rewards commensurate with the additional responsibilities and (arguably) specialist knowledge expected.
So why do MPs think they’re worth more than an, admittedly quick, objective analysis of their job suggests?
Well, first I think there’s the obvious point that there aren’t very many of them, so they may must be doing something special, or be special, to be one. But that’s not a valid argument, because the difficulty in getting one of the few jobs is irrelevant to what the job’s actually worth. There aren’t many chimney sweeps either, but that’s because there aren’t that many soot-laden chimneys now, and it doesn’t mean chimney sweeps get paid loads.
More importantly though, MPs think they’re worth more than they really are because everyone keeps telling them that they’re great. On the one side you’ve got people like Hodges and Blond pandering to their vanities by telling them MPs must be “brilliant”, even though that’s very clearly not a job requirement, and on the other you’ve got all the party activists and hangers-on who simply assume that, somehow, MPs deserve their godlike status within their parties, when a more rational approach would be to be regard MPs are party emissaries, sent off to do useful but sometimes quite dull stuff in London under the guidance of party members.
We need to pay MPs for the job they do. And we do. They don’t need free groceries, mind.