We’ve had ‘cash for questions’, ‘cash for honours’ and ‘cash for influence’ now we just seem to have ‘cash’.
It seems that the filthy lucre just can’t seem to keep out of the headlines when it comes to MPs. At the height of the expenses scandal we became overly-familiar with moat-dredging, duck houses and wisteria trimming - all carried out thanks to the taxpayer. Quite rightly, there was uproar about such claims.
Perhaps, though, we need to take a step back from the instant outrage about the MPs’ 10% pay increase and reflect more widely about the type of people who we require to carry out the responsible task of representing constituents and making laws.
I’ve often remarked that keeping the other three members of my family satisfied at the same time has proved to be a pretty tall order let alone adding another 79,997. Yet, MPs represent approximately 80,000 constituents all of whom expect a decent level of service.
An individual MP votes on important matters of interest, receiving the views of perhaps hundreds of constituents, as well as helping out with personal issues (e.g. social housing). These all require careful attention and on occasions very swift action.
I recently spoke to one MP (who answers all her emails personally) about her workload. When I suggested that she had a Sunday afternoon off, she told me that she would take a break when she had finished the 100 emails that had arrived on Friday. If we require a close relationship between MP and constituent then we do need people of good character with very sharp minds; such people are a rarity and are in huge demand in the marketplace.
The worker deserves her/his wages (Luke 10:7) and in our competitive system of employment, those with an unusual combination of high performing skills are paid a premium. The alternatives to paying MPs a higher salary are, in my opinion, much much worse.
In the wake of the expenses scandal, IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) was charged with the task of a forensic approach to scrutinising MPs' expenses claims. This has been implemented - and many MPs have complained about ‘draconian measures.’ Good - the system is clearly working. But the other side of the coin is that the salary paid should be determined independently and implemented without interference by the MPs themselves. A Channel Four Fact Check investigation seemed to suggest that compared with many other parliaments our MPs are actually underpaid.
Now, the current context of public sector pay restraint and general falling living standards can certainly lead us to a position of grievance when we cast a glance across at the lawmakers gaining a hefty rise. This is understandable for those of us who earn considerably less than the proposed £74,000 per year.
But if we continue to underpay our MPs then we will end up with the brightest and best earning millions in business and a return to the days when only those with inherited wealth represented us in parliament. I don’t believe that this would lead to the best outcomes for social justice for us, the electorate.
Sir Ian Kennedy and his team at IPSA are doing a good job - they should be allowed to get on with it.