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.