Science, People and Politics, issue 3, Volume i, Volume II, published 4th May, 2009.

Salaries for politicians

Currently in the UK debate is raging about MPs' expenses and salaries. I think debate ought also to be raging about how political campaigns are financed, but just at the moment that is a dormant issue. If campaign finance is off the menu for now then let me say straight off that I think British MPs ought to have a salary of £80,000 per year for a 48 hour week (with increments for various office holders), no second home allowance, and that we the tax payer ought to provide every MP, even those with constituencies in London, with a decent flat that is for their use rent free throughout their term in office. We ought also to pay their utility bills whilst they are in London. They could pay to go to work on the tube in the same way that all other Londoners do and get a taxi on expenses if they have to work after the tube closes down. If they work more than 48 hours then they need to itemise that for overtime, and then someone ought to try to figure out if there is anything that could be done to streamline the running of the country so that MPs do not have to work more than 48 hours per week.

If you happen to be an MP or congressman somewhere else then rather than a straight translation of sterling to your currency ask the question: what does a pound buy in England and how much would you have to pay for that basket of goods or an equivalent in your country?

In the UK a salary of £80,000 is only a little more than a district judge is paid. Given that MPs are making on our behalf the laws that judges work by then it seems fair enough to me that the MP should get a little more.

Before I have to duck from rotten eggs let me ask what would you want to be paid to put yourself and your ideas on the firing line? What would you want to be paid to participate in standing and select committees, to sit through long, tangled and intricate debates and to listen to constituents you might not be able to help or who hold views utterly divergent from you?

What would you want? And it does not matter what you do for a living. This country is yours if you are a citizen -- well, it is, except, perhaps, if the medical profession considers your political views to be psychotic -- and so you may put your ideas before your fellow citizens and seek their endorsement to be their representative. I would want what I have said above.

As for expenses: with a salary of £80 000, my London rent paid and my utility bill paid for in my official flat in London whilst I was an MP I could afford to buy a second tellie or washing machine and get it fixed (I don't actually have even one tellie). If I were to be sacked for not doing my job (that is possible is it not?) or not re-elected then I could offer to sell the washer to the next MP coming in to the flat.

I would also want to be allowed to claim for entertaining learned scientists, economists or bankers as I picked their brains. I might need to prove that I really am trying to get on top of the issues I am helping to shape legislation for. I would want to have my expenses paid to go home at weekends or back to my constituency for urgent business. Attending a party political event would have to come out of the pocket of whoever had selected me, and I do not belong to any party so in my case that would be me. I have no strong idea that it is wrong to pay a relative or spouse for a secretarial or administrative or a research role. If they are demonstrably working hard then they ought to be paid.

How does this all fit into the theme of science, people and politics? Well, not many years ago I thought how interesting and satisfying it would be to bring the skills I had acquired professionally to bear in support of political endeavour, and I sent off my CV - to someone on the left, as it happens. I would be just as comfortable approaching a conservative, green or liberal democrat. Now I am not currently seeking a similar job, but I do have a remnant of interest in MPs being well paid and, separately, having a fair allowance for research and admin. staff.

Surely I am not alone in that? My self interest is surely not that different from the rest of the country, and surely as a whole we ought to want to make our politicians feel valued and make sure they can pay for the best advice for themselves and be as insulated as possible from cover-ups, bribery and trickery, manipulation and the disingenuously power hungry and misleading?
Helen Gavaghan 4.4.2009.


GavaghanCommunications Science, People & Politics©. All rights reserved.

I completed this editorial on 4th May, 2009, not, as stated erroneously, on 4th April 2009.