Should MP’s be paid more?

The furore and fury over the recent and continuing MP's expenses scandal has given rise to a never-ending stream of questions from the electorate, probing the who, what, why and where of British politics. Particular questions have arisen enquiring into the causes which led to the abuse of the allowances system, one of which asks whether MP's salary, or perhaps lack of, is to blame for the unsatisfactory political system in the eyes of the British public. Opinion is strong and varied and high-profile debates have raged between the media, the public and politicians themselves.

On the one hand it is easy to see how an increase in MP's pay would result in the abolishment of the out-dated allowances system, allowing greater transparency and fostering greater respect and trust in politicians. From another angle, a pay increase would attract a higher calibre of candidate, better qualified to do the highly professional and skilled job that being a Member of Parliament is, but also reward them with a salary in line with other as executive jobs in the private and public sector.

A healthier pay check would also discourage MP's from looking to second job for funds, yet another aspect voters find dispiriting. Alternatively, a pay rise would be insensitive and out of line with the current climate, where high unemployment rates and job cuts are habitual, especially taking into consideration their already generous pay and extensive holidays. Arguably there would be no need for MP's to be paid more if the expenses system was tightened up and became more transparent, dealing with the public's fear of dishonesty.

Finally and most crucially, it is a distinct possibility that paying MP's more would not end scandal and controversy. An increase in MP's pay and thus abolishment of the expenses system encourages the voter friendly idea of transparency and trust. MP's would now no longer be able to claim for outrageous and unnecessary goods and services such as duck houses and moat cleaning at the expense of the tax-payer, and would instead be paying from their own pocket. There would no longer be recurring allowance debacles such as Speaker Michael Martin embarrassment over his wife's ludicrous taxi claims in April 2008.

The Times newspaper supports this view claiming 'the allowance should, therefore, be abolished and the sum incorporated into MP's salary' citing the other benefit being that allowances would then be brought 'inside the tax system'. The electorate and politicians alike are straining for a fairer system, one that will provide trust and accountability, and increasing pay would mean MP's work conditions would be similar to their counterparts in the private sector. It would allow the electorate to see MP's empathising with the value of money instead of spending it on extortionate items with complete disregard as to where the cash comes from.

The Times also argues that 'MP's are doing an important job and should be paid enough that high-quality people without independent means are financially able to do it'. This supports the argument that if MP's were paid more, the job would attract candidates more suited and qualified to the job, regardless of their background and wealth, which was the initial reasoning behind the introduction of MP's wages by PM David Lloyd-George. The Mail takes this point further and suggests 'we need people with experience of all kinds of life to come into politics and we need to reward them properly'.

Both The Times and The Mail pinpoint how a salary hike would help to improve the situation and lead to as more efficient and better quality MP's in the long-term, by attracting and rewarding them by a pay comparable to a job of similar hours and commitment, i. e. GP's and secondary school head teachers. The electorate have also become disillusioned due to the nature of MP's second jobs, many of which require long hours and provide more substantial pay than that of a representative.

Many MP's feel this second job helps to 'bump' up their salary, which at times in inadequate to cover living costs. This leads to compromised quality of work, as even backbench MP's with no other job report having implausible amounts of work to do, as a representative of a constituency, as a member of a committee, as a member of a political party, as a member of the executive, and many more roles beside. It is unrealistic to expect MP's to complete all these tasks to the best of their abilities whilst holding down another job, as is the case of Alan Duncan.

If MP's were paid more, there would be no need for them to have another job and would therefore improve the quality of service we obtain from our elected representatives. However, a pay rise is arguable unrealistic and hedonistic. Whilst both public and private sector workers alike are asked to take pay rises below-inflation or to work for free, as is the case with British Airways, it is unfeasible to even consider a pay rise for MP's who frankly do not deserve one who in the words of The Sun are 'crooked, conniving and corrupt', as newspapers are constantly filled with news of another politicians scandal.

Surely MP's should earn a pay rise from their employers, the tax-payers, just like in any other occupation? It would be insensitive, not only with a background of recession and high unemployment, which is a result of the very MP's who want a pay rise in the first place, but also because they receive a more than generous pay, well above the average breadwinner's salary in Britain, coupled with extensive holiday. As The Times puts it, 'their [MP's] hours are long but who has longer holidays than MP's? No one I know'.

A further argument is that with a correctly regulated expenses and allowances system, with full transparency and accountability, there would be no need for a pay rise. The nature of an MP's job is unlike any other and requires allowances. However, as every taxpayer is essentially an employer, if the electorate was able to access what was spent by whom, when, the system would be much more efficient and simultaneously, trust would be restored. Constituencies would be able to hold their individual MP to account and judge their literal 'cost' against their performance.

The current public mood of total lack of trust with any politician is neither sustainable nor healthy for the political system. A fully transparent, independently, correctly regulated system would undoubtedly restore faith and be highly proficient. A crucial view is that no amount of pay rise for MP's would remove the scandal and controversy from the heart of the British political system. The worry that by increasing pay, MP's will just be richer versions of their previous scandalous selves is looming, further detaching them from the average taxpayer's reality.

A pay rise could simply have no effect at all, as it would just force the business of cheating the system, more underground. After all it took all these years to discover this scandal, there could be many more secrets locked away in Westminster. Scandals would just emerge in different areas of politics, as is the case even today; funding, expenses, personal; all are still evident despite attempts to subdue them. The public would still be wary of politicians just for another reason, and perhaps a simple pay rise doesn't target the real root of the problem.

In conclusion, I believe that MP's salary should not increase as it would never solve the problem of public distrust as the expenses scandal is not a standalone event. I believe politician's reputations have been damaged over the years, for good reasons, and this was just the metaphorical cherry on the cake for the electorate and I believe that real change, to change the fundamental workings of our political system are needed as cracks are beginning to appear.

I also believe that scandal will always be apparent in politics, because politics and power come hand in hand, and unfortunately scandal will always be an unwanted tag along but more should be done to make the system transparent for the public. Also it is not as simple as comparing an MP's workload to that of another job. MP's are doing a public service, and should bear that in mind whilst working. Although salary is important, I believe it is important people do not go into politics for the money, not only will they be disappointed, I think it leads to the type of people who think it's morally 'OK' to take advantage of taxpayer's money.