Why We Should Pay MPs Much More

There has been predictable uproar at the revelation that, according to an anonymous survey, the average amount by which British Members of Parliament believe their salaries should rise is 32%. If that were to happen, they’d each take home £86,250 instead of their current £65, 738.

Discussion about salaries can become very messy, very quickly. So it might be said, for example, that MPs deserve a high salary because of the responsibility and stress of their position; but on the other hand many of them clearly want the job very much, so why shouldn’t we see the job, with all its enjoyable challenges, as reward enough in itself? Or it might be claimed that the position is intellectually demanding, requiring an unusually high level of intelligence and training, and that these talents themselves justify generous compensation; but, of course, it’s clear that many MPs are not particularly clever or well trained in anything much, so this raises the question whether each of them should be paid the same. Let’s put the whole notion of desert to one side: at this level of concreteness, it’s not going to help.

The decisions made in Parliament have major effects on all of us, and all of us therefore have an interest in those decisions being made by the people best able to take them, in the best circumstances. At present, it seems not unlikely that, given the levels of compensation available to successful individuals in the professions and in business, many of our most talented citizens never consider a political career. This seems to me to provide at least one strong argument in favour of an increase in MPs’ salaries of well over 32%. But there would be little benefit in introducing that increase now: it should be scheduled for after the next election.

Any substantial increase in salary should also come with a restriction on outside interests. At present, many MPs actively carry on careers outside politics, practising law, for example, or sitting on the boards of companies. Strict limits should be placed on such activity, perhaps to one day a week. It may be that we would then see a Parliament consisting of some of the best decision-makers in the country, focused on the task at hand. Of course, I may be wrong, but given what’s at stake it’s at least worth a try.

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5 Responses to Why We Should Pay MPs Much More

  • Matt Sharp says:

    £65k a year is more than ~95% of the population earns. I’m not sure there would be a massive increase in people considering a political career if the pay was higher. Certainly, based on the evidence associating life satisfaction and income, I don’t think a 32% pay increase would *actually* result in a 32% increase in quality of life.

    To me it seems that the biggest deterrent for people considering politics is the vicious attitude of the general public towards MPs. This is partly deserving, as with the expenses scandal. Wanting a big pay rise simply feeds this as it makes MPs seem out-of-touch. Especially when it’s followed with idiotic statements about the British public thinking that £65k is not “a vast amount of money” (Tory MP Andrew Bridgen).

    But often the vicious attitude is based on ignorant caricatures perpetuated by opposing political parties. Would higher pay reduce this? I don’t see how. In fact it could make it worse: MPs would have more to lose, and hence more to gain by demonising the opposition.

  • ganon says:

    “At present, it seems not unlikely that, given the levels of compensation available to successful individuals in the professions and in business, many of our most talented citizens never consider a political career.”

    That sentence begs for a sarcastic reply. Yes, for instance many high profile bankers and financial capitalist might currently pursue more profitable careers. Think of how much better we would have it if the perpetrators of the financial crises got even more influence over national politics!

  • Anthony Drinkwater says:

    I wonder whether we would get better philosophers if we paid them a lot more, Roger? Would philosophy be better if more talented citizens envisaged a philosophic career because of high earnings?
    If, as I suspect, the answer is no, why would we expect to have better politicians?

    • Sean O hEigeartaigh says:

      Anthony, I would have thought that the answer would be a daylight-clear clear “yes”. Is this controversial, or are you being tongue-in-cheek?

    • Sean O hEigeartaigh says:

      Anthony, I would have thought that the answer would be a daylight-clear clear “yes”. Is this controversial?

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