Friday, January 11, 2013

MPs salaries

When asked in private, MPs want substantial pay rises. This must rank as some of the least surprising news out there.  Equally unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone who isn't an MP is furious at the very idea, believing that MPs should work for the glory and honour of the thing, and that an appropriate comparitor is the national average salary. The increasingly ubiquitous Owen Jones argued that being an MP wasn't a career, let alone a professional one, and an appropriate salary would be about half of what they are on now.

This is coupled with disbelief at the notion that £65,738 can be seen as anything other than extremely good money indeed. As Mark Ferguson puts it:

Even in the most wealthy parts of the country that is a comfortable salary. In many of the poorer parts of the country, it makes the local MP one of his/her most wealthy constituents. MPs are well paid – wealthy, even.

There are two things I'd say about this. The first is that the comparison that MPs themselves will use is not what the average national wage is, but what they themselves could be earning in an alternative career. Becoming an MP is difficult - people who get there are often distinguished in other fields before getting elected. This is as it should be, and the decline of this trend (with the PPE, SpAd, MP route becoming ever more common) is a pity. But that does mean that if you leave a successful career to become an MP you will be sustaining a very substantial pay cut. How substantial? Well, a newly qualified solicitor in a big London firm will earn roughly as much as an MP, at the age of about 25. By 35 (the time when he/she might be thinking of changing career and entering politics) that salary should be well into six figures, and if this ambitious young thruster has made partner, could be over a quarter of a million pounds. Whichever way you cut it, that's a hell of a downshift.

Traditionally, of course, there are ways around this. Principally, as an MP you simply kept your previous job, while scaling back the hours a touch, and worked during the day in the office, and in the evening and at night in the House. That was the main reason for the desperately anti-social hours - you could work two shifts. Now, with family-friendly hours and with a much greater constituency role for MPs, that has become much more difficult. Barristers can just about keep it up (much barrister work involves drafting opinions and advices, rather than set piece court work) and there's always journalism, but any job with fixed office hours has become much harder to manage.

The second point that occurred to me was that raising MPs salaries up towards the upper tier  used to be a cause of the left. It was argued that the low salaries paid to MPs before the war (£400pa up to 1937) made it necessary for MPs to have either a private income or a second job. This was no problem for wealthy Tories from the shires or the City, but made it very hard for a working class Labour MP to make ends meet. One poor chap (Mardy Jones) was forced to resign his seat after he gave his wife rail tickets designated for MPs only. It is, perhaps, slightly ironic that it's the left shouting loudest about this, when higher MP salaries were really designed to assist working class MPs.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But that does mean that if you leave a successful career to become an MP you will be sustaining a very substantial pay cut. How substantial? Well, a newly qualified solicitor in a big London firm will earn roughly as much as an MP, at the age of about 25."
Not true for a scientist or in IT.
Less solicitors in Parliament sounds a good idea to me - there are plenty already.

2:45 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

So say all of us...

9:53 am  

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