Wednesday, February 25, 2015

No ifs and buts - to be elected to Parliament gives you a full time and well paid job!

The idea that you would have a job in public service for which you are paid a salary higher than the earnings of all but 3% of the population and not regard it as "full time" is offensive. And yet that is what the disgraced Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind is saying and so is his erstwhile colleague Lord Heseltine, among others. 

The competition to be selected to contest a Parliamentary seat is intense in all the major parties. For anyone interested in politics, ambitious and with a bias for service to be a Member of Parliament must be the dream job. And it is a big job as well. You serve the interests of an electorate of, on average, 70,000 people and their families. They come first because they have a right to demand your attention and your help. 

Constituency work is the core of an MPs job. In addition the MP has a duty to his electorate to represent their interests in Parliament. He or she is not a delegate and is expected to use their own judgment on issues, and it is accepted that they will be loyal to his Party. That is the next layer up in the job – in part the rather demeaning “lobby fodder” role but that aside the duty to be an active member of the legislature.

The hard graft work of Parliament is in the many Committees. Here the “humble” MP can come into his or her own. Studying and revising legislation, challenging witnesses and ministers and so on. 

Finally an MP may become a Minister or Shadow Minister. There are 120 of the former each of which brings with it a fully accountable portfolio of responsibilities. Not all MPs want to be a minister (and not all ministers are MPs of course, some sit in the House of Lord’s) but most do. Not, I suspect, because of the additional salary that being a minister brings with it but because to do a ministerial job is the pinnacle of a political career, especially if it is in Cabinet.

So what is an MPs job? It is, from the moment he or she is elected, to be part of the active fabric of our national politics – of our governance as a nation. How an MP’s time is spent depends on the nature of their parliamentary and, for some, ministerial work. I have been told in the last few days (not least by Sir Malcolm Rifkind) that to be an ordinary MP is not a full time job and further that there is a comparison between the case of the MP who has “another job” as a minister or shadow minister and the Rifkind example. That is that an MP’s active pursuit of income outside of Parliament and Party and Politics is analogous to the fact that another MP may have “another job” as a minister. This is bunkum. To be a minister is part of the public service role for which you were elected – as is, for example, to be a member of a Parliamentary committee. 

Malcolm Rifkind has made no friends with his claim that he had the right to supplement his MP’s salary of £67,060 because he wanted to “have the standard of living that my professional background would normally entitle me to have”. Aside from the fact that with his MP’s salary alone  Rifkind is close to the top of the earners league in Britain there is the implication that to feather his own nest during the working week on non public service work is acceptable. It may be common, and MPs may always have done it but is it acceptable? I would suggest not. 

Can you imagine a High School teacher, average salary £30,000, saying that he or she would work the hours they choose for this salary turning up at their school when they feel like it because  they need to pursue  additional earnings outside to which their “professional background” entitles them?  Oh and they would use the insider knowledge accruing to them from their teaching job and experience to help them get this lucrative outside work!


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