Sunday 3 August 2008

A fair weeks pay for a fair days work

Something I wrote a month ago: but still relevant

How could they? Were they so drunk with power that they just don’t care? So contemptuous of the people they represent that they calculate the outrage will soon be forgotten? Or so aware that their days in office are numbered that they have to maximise their take while they can?

Probably the last, given the numbers of Labour MPs including those on the Government payroll who voted to keep an excessive and untransparent expenses regime. They did show some constraint in terms of their pay increase but at the same time they avoided future conflicts by passing responsibility to an outside body. Thus ducking the issue and the responsibility.

The best blog on the issue is Guido, who lists those MPs who voted to continue with their current regime, and who neatly comments on the absurdity of some of the claims. I was ashamed to be in the same party as one of the conservative MPs who compared the hardship of having to vote on difficult issues with a clearly overpaid medic who only occasionally has to deal with life or death issues.

So I won’t repeat that. They self-parody sufficiently. But a couple of observations:
- As I noted before, increasingly MPs are ducking important decisions by passing them to outside bodies. So what purpose do MPs serve? And why do we then need so many of them? Would we not be better served with fewer MPs and more money going to Citizens Advice Bureaux (s?) to follow up the issues MPs assistants currently do?
- I don’t believe all politicians are bad. I even believe most initially go into it to try to serve rather than to make money out of their second homes. But it’s clear that power corrupts and that they slip into a framework where they live different lives from ordinary people and think they do not have to live by normal standards. (Evidence? Only one recently elected Tory MPs voted to keep the old system. Otherwise only those first elected in the last century did.) So, we need term limits. Three terms? Two? Perhaps with a one term extension for those in ministerial or shadow ministerial roles?
- MPs should have to vote on their pay (and that of Ministers). They should have that responsibility. But to provide some degree of approval by electors, they should vote at the end of each Parliament, fixing it for the next term. That way people know what they are voting for so there is some degree of check and balance. There is always a turnover of MPs so there is some degree of independence in the vote. And because the amount would be unchanged for the Parliament there would be a lot of incentive to keep inflation down.

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