I remember a television interview with Tony Benn (1925 – 2014), some time in the 1990s I think, where he proposed (if my memory serves me correctly) that members of parliament should be paid £100,000 per annum. BUT, and it’s a big but, forbidden from having any other financial interests. It is possible that I have not remembered the details correctly but that doesn’t matter, it’s the perspective that’s important, and I have some of my own suggestions.
At the time, it seemed like a monstrous amount of money, an annual income that most people will never earn in their lives, but I have come to agree with him and think they should be paid even more than that, and I’ll come back to that later.
Friends of mine will know that, despite a very long-standing disdain for politics and politicians, I have only recently become politically active, but why is that?
Shame, disgust and anger.
On a daily basis, I am appalled by the explicit corruption of people who are PUBLIC SERVANTS, paid with public money. Not government money, there is no such thing as government money, it is our money, paid by “hardworking” people. Not Google, of course, or Gary Barlow, or any of the hordes of other favoured tax avoiders otherwise known as Conservative Party donors.
However, UK members of parliament are not bound by the same kind of terms and conditions that you and I might expect in our place of work, and they cannot be removed from their positions except by a general election, a by-election or under certain specific, but none too punitive circumstances.
Members of Parliament are paid a generous salary but also have a wide range of perks and benefits, including a subsidised second home, paid-for ancillary staff and rather generous expenses. I will not go into the figures here but it is all available on http://www.theyworkforyou.com/.
And now, it is proposed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to give British MPs a 11% pay rise, despite years of austerity and caps on local authority pay and social security benefits, and demonstrable failure of the government to deal with the problems of the United Kingdom.
Having said that, my own criticism would not be the cost to the British public, but the lack of responsibility taken by the very people who have been elected to represent us. I accept that being an MP is a huge commitment and an undertaking far more serious than any of my own paid roles, but with great great power comes great responsibility.
And there’s the rub.
I am sure David Cameron and his Bullingdon buddies see themselves as statesmen. An élite. The cream of the crop. But these are people who have never done anything worthwhile in their entire lives. They have never contributed anything to the world around them because they have never actually worked and they know nothing of the world because they jump straight from university into politics with nothing more than a first-class degree in fluff and a dollop of mummy and daddy’s prejudice.
I’m sure they think it’s work, and I have no doubt that they spend long hours in their efforts, but working as a researcher or a speech writer for another politician is not work at all. It’s just an exercise in disguising prejudice as prudence.
If you look at Cameron’s Wikipedia entry (I don’t have my Who’s Who? to hand) he was known to be an outstanding student. However, his most notable skill seems to be question avoidance, otherwise known as professional lying. Such a shame that someone so obviously talented has dedicated his life to the perversion of truth.
George Osborne (currently Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not such a star pupil, but he is just a placeholder, although I gather he has been having acting lessons and voice coaching in order to improve his appeal.
This might explain why he has become such a charismatic performer recently. Money well spent. But why would a politician find it necessary to have acting lessons, whether or not it’s paid for by the taxpayer? Well, it’s because even a pantomime needs actors with a convincing vocal delivery.
Oh yes it does.
The reported amounts of money are trivial, but the principal of it is deeply invidious. It demonstrates what a sham the British parliament is, where performance has become more important than policy.
I can imagine a television competition show with those heavyweights of showbiz mentoring, Tom Jones, Will I Am, Jessie J and whatsisname-from-a-boyband, who sit with their backs to the dispatch box, listening to the deep, earnest rumblings of Osborne, followed by the artificially-maintained brogue of South Yorkshire’s favourite relish, William Hague, and then the twittering of Clegg, and finally the expertly polished, boyish fervour of Cameron.
What a shock they’ll get when then spin around, only to go eye-to-eye with the smooth-faced dumplings of the coalition front bench. Clegg is the looker, but I don’t suppose he’ll be in the competition much longer. (You know, I keep forgetting about Clegg, even though I am in Sheffield too. He’s not taken very seriously around here.)
It would not be fair to accuse Cameron or Osborne of being out of touch, they were never in touch in the first place. Cameron is the 5th cousin (twice removed) of Queen Elizabeth II, and Osborne is the direct descendent of King Henry III of England.
This is also anathema to a responsible manager. I have been involved in selecting and interviewing for professional roles, but I would never appoint any of them. These people are the worst possible candidates for their jobs. They are conditioned sociopaths, their emotional development willfully stunted by their educational institutions, thereby making them incapable of arriving at informed decisions. If these people were not from wealthy families we would consider them deprived.
These men are not statesmen in either principle or practice, and we have lost sight of the fact that they, like us, are workers. They are being paid to work for us, to represent our interests, and if they don’t do that then no amount of drama coaching or vocal gymnastics will distract us from the fact that they are guilty of professional negligence.
What’s more, in any other industry, if an employee refused to answer a question posed by their colleagues or employers, or was found to be lying, that would count as gross misconduct, even if their mic technique was faultless. And yes, I am talking about Prime Minister’s Questions, which is a grotesque sham that future generations will compare with the obscene excesses of the Roman Empire.
What I would like to see is for a General Election where parliament is dissolved and all elected MPs are re-employed on a normal contract of employment. Just like the rest of us. Just like “hard working” people.
This would mean that MPs could be disciplined and, if necessary, dismissed if they fail to meet the conditions of their contract. I have had a number of management roles in my life but only once had to pursue disciplinary proceedings against a colleague. It’s not something to be taken lightly but is a vital safeguard that protects the employing organisation and fellow workers against the negligence, incompetence or misconduct of colleagues.
And as the responsibilities of Members of Parliament directly affect the wellbeing of thousands or even millions of other people, rather than the laissez-faire that we have at the moment, the contracts of MPs should be even more strictly scrutinized.
First out of the door would be Iain Duncan Smith. He’s an easy target, I know, but he’s been found to have lied about his education, mismanaged a number of extremely important government projects, willfully misrepresented statistical information and neglected his duty of care in his job.
Three strikes and you’re out is normal practice, mate, and that’s four. Oh and don’t sit down, Grant Shapps, you won’t be stopping either.
In normal employment, it would not be unreasonable to forbid employees to associate with other organisations that might create a conflict of interests, so why do we allow it amongst workers who have direct responsible for our economic prosperity, social services and national security?
Nadine “Mad Nad” Dorries (another easy target) would have been dismissed for gross misconduct. Not for swallowing maggots in the jungle, or for having the stupidity to appear on “I’m a Celebrity”, but for neglecting the duties she is paid to perform. Although, surely her appearance on the programme constitutes misrepresentation by the television production company, but let’s forget about that.
However, it’s not all depravity in the Houses of Parliament. I realise that I rarely mention the competent or ethical MPs, but they are not the ones we need to worry about. For a number of years, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has been campaigning for a “Recall” Bill, whereby members of parliament can be removed from their seats, via a by-election, if they are considered to be not doing their job properly.
The Recall Bill has just passed its first reading (on 11th September 2014) but Goldsmith has expressed his concern how it “falls scandalously short” of what he has been campaigning for.
The recall process in the bill as about to be enacted is reminiscent of the appeal process against the building of an intergalactic bypass that involved the destruction of the Earth in Douglas Adams’ 1979 novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.
“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”
That was just a satire, but the reality is so grotesquely cynical, it’s not funny at all.
If you read the conditions required, it’s just a filibuster. In my opinion, however, Goldsmith doesn’t go nearly far enough, although I believe his heart is in the right place. My own preference would be for a much more radical, but not extreme, solution. A solution that already has millions of people in the UK employed in a similar manner.
Here is my proposal: members of parliament should be paid £250,000 per year, but forbidden from having any other income or financial interests during their tenure, and for a full parliamentary term afterwards although they would still get paid. Also, they would have to pay for all their travel, hotel bills and sundry expenses out of that amount, with no second home or personal favours. Additionally, any staff would have to be paid for out of that gross amount, but not spouses, offspring, friends, relatives or “special advisers”.
As Dennis Skinner put it, half the party opposite are not crooks, but it’s not just on the government benches. From the front benches all the way to the back on both sides, parliament is half full of people who would not be employable elsewhere because of past bankruptcies, criminal convictions or demonstrable incompetence.
I fight for the users, for the workers, for the plebs, and all I want is for “them” to realise that they are “us”.