If the pay problem in the private sector is that we fail to treat our bosses like staff, the problem with MPs is that they think they are staff, joined at the hip to a paternalistic employer. MPs imagine they do a job of work; they see their position in the House of Commons as part of a “career” when it should be a vocation. A “career” in politics is a corruption of the electoral mandate. Careers are about personal advancement when the purpose of an MP is to represent his constituency and the nation at large.
An MP is not employed. Therefore he should not have a wage. His expenses are not an issue. The office, the secretary or the PA can be provided by the Civil Service. The question is how, without employment, MPs should live. In an ideal world, they would live frugally, as Plato said the guardians should in his Utopian Republic. In the real world, an MP’s temporary mandate might be seen as National Service. During their time in Parliament, the MPs’ previous employer would be required to give financial support. Large companies should easily be able to afford this burden. Smaller businesses might receive financial assistance from the taxpayer up to the level of the average British wage.
Okay I lose him a bit at that last bit, but anyway,
The benefits would be the abolition of politics as a career. It would much reduce the power of political patronage and the party system. Few MPs would serve more than a term, reducing the scope for bullying by party apparatchiks. There would be more independents in the House of Commons with wide commercial and public service experience at a higher level. There would be fewer superannuated shop stewards, failed barristers and bored journalists.
Or maybe more, ahem, rich people? (And by that, I mean good rich, not George Galloway rich. But then there’s still Nancy Pelosi rich. But of course, she just proves that you don’t need to pay these sharks.)
Pay for MPs has existed since the Parliament Act 1911 but we could abolish it, end careerism and give the Commons a real chance to function as the nation’s conscience rather than its most heavily subsidised bar and canteen. Some might argue that the removal of pay would be socially divisive but MPs already are divided by income, education and party affiliation. Parliament’s role is to reflect social difference in intelligent debate, not satisfy the financial ambition of the less well-off.