Malcolm Rifkind, caught out last week trying to sell his services to a phoney Chinese business, had the effrontery to claim that he needed a second job as MPs were paid so poorly. Like many other MPs, Mr Rifkind chooses to ignore the fact that the average wage of people lucky enough to have a full time job in the UK is only around £26,000 while MPs’ salaries are set to rise to £74,000, almost three times this amount. Furthermore, at a time when final salary occupational pension schemes in the UK have largely disappeared, MPs’ retirement pensions have recently been improved from 1/50 final salary per year of contribution to 1/40. Meanwhile, most of their constituents are expected to subsist on the state old age pension of £5,876 a year.
Michael Heseltine provided another explanation last week for why MPs need a second job. It wasn’t poverty, Lord Heseltine explained, it was because an MP’s job was not really full time! Given the length of the parliamentary recess, he may have a point here. But surely the remedy would be not to pay MPs during the recess. After all, there are lots of zero hour jobs out there. At the last count, 700,000 of their constituents were ‘benefitting’ from this readily available source of employment.
So what is an MP worth? Ignoring the obvious, cheap retort, it’s necessary to remind ourselves that, in one way, Lord Heseltine was right. Being an MP is not, or rather should not be, a job at all. Many MPs mistakenly think of themselves as part of a profession. How often do we hear them refer to themselves as having a ‘career’ as a parliamentarian. Being an MP isn’t a job, it isn’t a career – or at least it should not be. It is, or should be, for a limited time, to be the servant of those who elected them. MPs’ pay should therefore be sufficient to enable them to discharge this service – no more and no less. The average full time wage, £26,000 per year, can provide a useful yardstick for this. It would also give MPs an incentive, that they currently lack, to work to increase this average. Isn’t that what we pay them for?
Would candidates of a ‘suitable calibre’ come forward for election on such supposedly meagre terms? Of course they would! They might not want to hang around for 40 years to collect the (under this proposal much reduced) pension, but so much the better for that.
There is, however, one, possibly insurmountable problem to implementing such a sensible arrangement. Under our current , capitalist society there is a huge disparity in wealth and income. If MPs’ salaries were constrained to the industrial average, Parliament might revert to its profile at the beginning of the last century – stuffed with individuals with private wealth who don’t need any salary to be an MP. There is, of course, a remedy for this. Get rid of capitalism.