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Monday, 15 July 2013

A Question Of Worth?

A recent set of exchanges sparked by the announcement that MPs are to get a 9.6% pay increase on the annual salaries of GBP63,000 plus very generous expenses, got me thinking. One of those in the debate argued that the MPs 'deserve' this since they are 'dedicated, public spirited individuals who do this often thankless work, not for the money, but because they believe they can make a better society.' It took me some time to stop choking, and I'm still not sure whether the attack was caused by anger or laughter. The commentators argument suggested that the MPs 'dedication' often imposed great strain on his family, and required them to spend long periods away from home.

That is true. It is also true that they could earn more in banking, law and one or two other professions, but they have chosen the path of politics. At their present salary - excluding expenses - they earn roughly three times what the average soldier, sailor or airman earns. They get considerably more than any firefighter, ambulance man, and most policemen. They earn vastly more than most teachers, and twice the average nurse's pay. None of those categories get a travel allowance to go to and from work, and none of them are paid any additional allowance for a 'second home' - so just why are our MPs awarding themselves almost 10% salary increases when the vast majority of public servants in the military, police, Emergency Services, medicine and the teaching professions are getting 2% or less?

I do not accept the argument that these people are 'working to improve society'. The vast majority of them - from the Labour side of the House - have gone from student activism at university, to Union activism as a Shop Steward or Union Organiser, to Local Councillor, to Parliamentary Candidate/Secretary/Researcher and then become an MP. On the other side of the House the majority have gone from University Debating Society, to Law, Banking or another Profession, thence, via Local, County and City to Parliament. In my view they have no experience of real world work, or of any of the matters they routinely regard as something to be 'improved' via their meddling. This is what gives rise to their endless legislative agendas and programmes. Half the time this is about building fences to protect their own interests or the interests of the various lobbyists they really represent, and the other half seems to be more about being seen to 'do something about "X" (Insert Latest Political Issue Here).

As Gilbert and Sullivan's sentry sings in Iolanthe,

When Britain Really Ruled the Waves1
Solo: When Britain really rul'd the waves -
(In good Queen Bess's time)
The House of Peers made no pretence,
To intellectual eminence,
Or scholarship sublime;
Yet Britain won her proudest bays
In good Queen Bess's glorious days!
Yet Britain won her proudest bays
In good Queen Bess's glorious days!
Chorus: Yes, Britain won her proudest bays
In good Queen Bess's glorious days!
Solo: When Wellington thrash'd Bonaparte,
As ev'ry child can tell,
The House of Peers throughout the war,
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well:
Yet Britain set the world ablaze
In good King George's glorious days!
Yet Britain set the world ablaze
In good King George's glorious days!
Chorus: Yes, Britain set the world ablaze
In good King George's glorious days!
Solo: And while the House of Peers withholds
Its legislative hand,
And noble statesmen do not itch
To interfere with matters which
They do not understand,
As bright will shine Great Britain's rays
As in King George's glorious days!
As bright will shine Great Britain's rays
As in King George's glorious days!
Chorus: As bright will shine Great Britain's rays
As in King George's glorious days!
Personally I think the present denizens of the House of Commons would do well to take particular note of Verse 3.

As for their increase in salary, let me say only this. They should consider this very carefully indeed. Show an example to the rest of us. The 'increase' they plan for themselves is more than my State Pension, which makes up roughly half of my total occupational and State Pension income combined. I had the privilege of working in the UK for a little over 25 years (If I had managed 40 years I'd have a bigger State and Occupational Pension), and served the Crown and my communities as a Fire Fighter and Officer. I too had to make decisions, many of which could have resulted in serious injury or death to those under my command. Some of my decisions could have wiped out the employment of many people and could, in some circumstances, be the difference between someone surviving and being rescued from a fire - or not. 

No, I never earned the sort of money MPs think they're worth, and nor do the vast majority of those who work in the Public Sector. Nor do we seek to interfere in the lives of those around us, to regulate things we don't understand, or to impose our opinions and ideologies on everyone else. We 'served' in the truest sense of the word. MPs simply don't. In fact one often has the impression when listening to them debating changes to laws or regulations that they are being told what to say, how to vote and even what to think by their lobbyists. Most have no understanding of the impact of their decisions in real terms at all - at least that is the overwhelming impression of those of us who have to try and work within their final decisions.

It is argued that they should receive more than anyone else, because their 'employment' can be taken away at the drop of a hat. Perhaps, if they stop to think about it, that is why Parliament was always the preserve of those of private means, or retired professionals who had both the knowledge and understanding of the real world to support them, and the means to support themselves. In this day and age everyone faces this problem. Employment is, we are told by the MPs, no longer for life, and while most of us struggle towards a pension (or are in receipt of one the last government asset stripped to pay for their disastrous spending plans) - they look forward to receiving a full parliamentary pension after serving just two terms in office.

No, I don't think they're worth a 10% pay rise, and I certainly don't think they deserve it.  

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