Comment: MPs deserve a pay cut, not a pay rise

Ian Dunt: 'In the world of the wealthy, the world appears a success.'
Ian Dunt: 'In the world of the wealthy, the world appears a success.'
Ian Dunt By

The proposal for giving MPs a pay rise has been loudly denounced in public, but behind the scenes the chatter is of another nature entirely.

The difficult truth of politicians pay is one of the great unsayables: a reality to be whispered conspiratorially in charmed circles. Since the expenses scandal, wise old men have acknowledged that the only sure-fire way to clean up the system is for MPs' salaries to rise.

Of course, it is hogwash.

If anything, MPs' pay needs to fall significantly. It should be pegged to the average wage, with London weighting, to give members of parliament an incentive to improve the lives of ordinary workers.


Instead, most political observers want MPs included in the small bubble of fortunate professionals whose salaries rise every higher while most workers in Britain face stagnant wages and rising prices.

The Ipsa-proposed 11% pay rise would raise their current £66,396 salary by £7,600 to £74,000 - putting it at over three times average wages.

This is not connected to performance. The class of MPs currently sitting in Westminster are marginally more capable and interesting than the MPs before 2010, but the difference is not worth mentioning. The less interesting, independent and intelligent you are, the more likely you are to be selected and to rise up the system. Westminster values obedience and conformity more than ability or values.

There are exceptions. Many MPs are talented and principled. But they are notable for their scarcity.

It is certainly not connected to the state of public finances, given that public sector workers are still facing bruising pay restraint.

The usual argument for an increase in wages is that talented people will not be interested in taking a pay cut to move into politics. Housing association chairmen, business 'leaders', GPs, headteachers and the like are apparently put off by the money.

This argument demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about what politics is. Only those who have given up on politics could possibly make it.

The argument does not consider for a moment that an MP may be accomplished because of his principles or his eloquence, because of his campaign work or his ability to think lucidly about politics. Ideology is a remnant of the past; a dirty word. The argument perceives politics as primarily a management question. The days of fighting for your community, of actually believing in something other than the most effective way to follow the orders of the whips, are over.

But even if we accepted its premise, the demand for a pay rise fails by virtue of its internal incoherence.

It perceives skills as transferable, so that someone successful in a doctor's surgery would necessarily be successful in an MP's office. Nothing could be further from the truth. This idea of professional ability rests on a belief that there exists a class of privately educated, middle aged men, able to see clearly what others cannot, ready to be dropped into situations across society and fix the problems their lessers cannot.

It is false. And it is particularly false in politics. Business people parachuted into political positions very rarely get anywhere. Politics is not just the art of what to do, but how to do it. In business, which is a controlled dictatorship, someone asks to do something and it is largely followed. In politics, the act of demanding is but the first step. It is also often the last. Motivations and power lines are much more complex and intricate than in other areas. To successfully navigate them requires a complex awareness of political sympathies and human motivation.

There is something grotesque and revealing about the constantly parroted mantra: 'Pay peanuts, get monkeys'. It is an innately right-wing view. Under this conception of life, the nurse is useless, the teacher is an underachiever and the social worker a drag. It is a conception of the world which recognises only money – no social use, no public service, no love of country or community.

It is doubly a joke for the vast majority of workers who earn less than the £66,396 paid to MPs. It reveals exactly what the professional class thinks of the rest of the country: monkeys.

This is the way the rich have always thought. In the world of the wealthy, the world appears a success.

The human brain always ascribes success to itself and failure to someone else. That's just how we're wired. So high earners believe it is due to their innate skills, low earners believe it is the fault of the system.

This is why MPs should not be paid too much. If we give them more money, they will become more convinced this country is a success. After all – talented people like themselves are remunerated appropriately. Any food chain which raises them up must surely be functioning efficiently. It is not a far step from this idea to the perception of the poor as untalented and lazy. Boris Johnson's idiot speech last month brought this into sharp relief.

Raising MPs' salaries will make them more conservative, more resistant to change, more loyal to the status quo.

Only by forcing them to live at the status of a normal worker will they be as dismayed by the financial conditions of this country as everyone else.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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