MPs’ pay and perks…
March 24, 2009 3 Comments
In the post by Tim Montgomerie that I linked last time, I saw this – my response to which started off as an aside there, but grew to warrant its own post.
We should also say – and I hope we get there first – that MPs and ministers will take a temporary pay cut. The political class must lead by example.
With a completely pointless, distracting and counterproductive gesture, Tim? And one which by some amazing co-incidence is rather like what Blair & Brown did in ‘97 – freezing ministers’ pay.
Personally, I think that if the Tories really want a split in the party before the next election, this would be a bloody good way to achieve it, but that is incidental and I don’t really care about Tory politics any more, since they’re evidently just The Blue Labour & Spineless Teddybear party under Cameron. (As an aside, did you notice that Brown bound up his call for a review of MPs’ pay and expenses with the question of outside interests, which is bound to hurt the enterprising Tories more than the Labour looters? Indeed this question has already caught Cameron out in 2009.)
I think pay cuts – temporary or otherwise – would be a bad thing.
Of course we all resent the troughing MPs – I hate most of them, but the troughing is far down the list of reasons I’d rather stab them than vote for them.
The reason I (and I think many others) resent the expenses and entitlements system that prevails for MPs is that it is so bloody reasonable and circumspect compared to the bloody awful one we all have to put up with. Examples:
- Free coffee and tea removed from workplace? That’s because the local tax office advised your employer that this is a taxable benefit to employees, which must be declared on the P11D.
- Meanwhile, MPs and peers enjoy massively subsidised prices in the House of Commons bars (in which they can also smoke!).
- Lost the receipt for your meal last time you stayed away? Or maybe you decided to frequent the type of restaurant where the receipt is pretty shaky and hand-written. Getting paid on that is dependent on whether your expenses team are happy to do battle with the revenue on your behalf.
- Meanwhile, MPs don’t need to produce receipts for each instance of such expenditure.
- Work away a lot and use hotels? Resent being put in a Holiday Inn Express or a Travelodge on an industrial park every time? That’s because HMRC would also deem anything above the absolute most basic to be a taxable perk. On the other hand, I’m able to claim a £35 stipend per night I stay with a friend or family instead of in a hotel – but then I can’t claim for food, drink or any other incidentals.
- Meanwhile, Jacqui Smith claims £120k for staying in her sister’s house and Tony McNulty claims £60k for the house he used to share with his Mum and Dad in North London, and now uses as a constituency base, which is actually further from Westminster than the house he lives in with his family, but still only 8 miles away – a 2 quid tube fare or a quid on the bus.
Of course, it goes without saying that the same people who exploit all these perfectly within-the-rules ‘loopholes’ are the same ones who imposed most of this ridiculousness on us – particularly Brown as Chancellor. Just as they are the ones bemoaning perfectly legitimate tax avoidance methods, while taking on Lord Myners as City Minister, less than two years after he departed from his role in setting up and running an off-shore reinsurance company for the express purpose of tax avoidance.
So, to my point:
All of these unpalatable truths notwithstanding, I’m probably in a minority here when I say that I think the salaries of MPs and ministers are pretty damned paltry considering the responsibilities they (ought to) shoulder. A middle-management HR or health and safety drone can earn the sort of basic an MP earns. Half of the senior snivel service and local government execs earn more than the Prime Minister. There’s absolutely no bloody way I’d work in London for £65k like MPs do.
Of course there’s the expenses thing – and it’s difficult to be surprised, against the above backdrop of pay comparisons, that the system is taken advantage of.
So my solution would be a one-off boost in pay of elected Westminster representatives and Ministers by [plucked out of the air like a climate change statistic] 30%. The pay off would be that all expenses claims would have to be supported by receipts and their whole entitlements regime would become the same as the rest of us, as dictated by HMRC – they’d be taxed on anything deemed a benefit.
I think I’ve adequately expressed my thinking around the expenses thing, so to justify the salary increase I say this: I’ve already outlined the unlikelihood of me, or anyone I know of calibre, wanting to do the job they do for the money they earn. So make the money worth doing the job for.
This brings me to the question of people who think MPs are well paid. I mean come on. If you’re in your 30’s and have carved out a career, are you honestly telling me I’m wrong about the pay? On the other hand, I can quite understand that there are millions of people out there who think that MPs are very well paid indeed. Some of these people become Labour MPs. Which is how they come to be representative of the lack-lustre, the un-driven, the envious, the spiteful, the underachieving and the feckless. It is also why they are determined to lock the unfortunate and the wronged into their client state rather than encouraging them out of it.
If anything, a nice fat pay rise for all MPs would cost less that the road signs for the 2012 Olympics and would focus the minds of the public regarding MPs’ accountability.
Again, in terms of my proposed salary boost further worsening the public’s view of politics and politicians, well I can think of about 100 things that they have done in the last 20 years that make a much stronger contribution to the borderline-pathological hatred I have of most politicians.
Just one other thought, which is on the subject of MPs’ expenses being made public. Well, that’d be okay if I also wanted mine to be public. As it is, the fact that I spend a fortune on tea and eat at McDonalds more often than nanny would approve of is a matter between me and my boss. The former, I address with a quote from Ed in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels:
The entire British Empire was built on cups of tea, and if you think I’m going into battle without one, you are very much mistaken.
The latter doesn’t need addressing, because my boss is a fat bastard.