McShane and MPs’ view of themselves
Ex-Labour MP Denis MacShane has pleaded guilty to false accounting over parliamentary expenses.
During a hearing at the Old Bailey in London, Mr MacShane admitted false accounting by putting in fake receipts for £12,900 of “research and translation” services.
BBC News website 18 November 2013 Ex-MP Denis MacShane pleads guilty over expenses
Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said, “MPs still feel quite bitter about the salary they receive” (BBC One 10 O’clock News 18 November 2013)
Sir Alistair may not have been condoning the behaviour – but he is very close to excusing it. This scale of fiddling is very difficult to excuse – even by the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The apparent implication of Sir Alistair’s remark is that because MPs feel under-valued, they fiddle their expenses.
What exactly is the value of an MP?
- Lobby fodder – this could be done by a reasonably sober and obedient intern.
- “Holding the Executive to account” – this might have a value if it was properly done. Most scandals seem to be uncovered by journalists or whistle-blowers. Then the MPs grandstand in select committees. This creates a lot of hot air but does it actually change things? Note that Select Committee chairs receive extra pay (£14,728).
- “Scrutinising Legislation” – again this might have a value if it was properly done. However the government aided by its whips usually gets its way – significant amendments are rare. Yet we more often see amending legislation to put right something overlooked by previous legislation.
- “Introducing Legislation” Genuine reforming legislation is rare – often backbench bills are there merely to curry favour with either the whips or some pressure group
- Constituency Casework. This probably has a value as it is often people’s last option when the state is unresponsive.
So MPs might be compared to say Social Workers, but at what level? Has an MP ever been dragged through public enquiries or courts for failures in casework (like even relatively junior social workers)? Do they actually have any significant responsibilities or accountabilities?
- To be in the Commons when the Whips want them to be – on pain of? Not much; repeat offenders may get into trouble with their constituency selection committees and may just risk deselection in a few years time. Having the whip withdrawn does not seem much of a sanction – you are left free to follow any conscience that you might have.
- To try to vote in the correct lobby (as defined by the whips)
- To manage your own time and to (presumably) respond to correspondence reasonably promptly – again on pain of? Not much unless again you are a consistent recidivist.
- To manage a small team of office workers.
These responsibilities are really fairly minimal.
So should they be paid £66,396 per annum? “MPs also receive expenses to cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, having somewhere to live in London and in their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency.” (ref Parliament website: Pay and expenses for MPs) They also have a defined benefit pension scheme and receive special allowances when they cease to be MPs – even if it is their choice to resign or not contend their seat. Cushy, cushy, cushy.
UK median pay is £26,500 (for those lucky enough to be in full-time work) or 40% of an MP’s salary. (Median pay is the pay you have to receive such that half the population gets more than you and half gets less than you.) (Ref: ONS, Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2012 Provisional Results)
The average (mean) salary for a Social Worker is £25,623 per year. The Median is £26,101. The 90th percentile is £36k (i.e. 90% of social workers get less than this) (Ref: Payscale, Social Worker Salary 18 November 2013)
So social workers are less well paid than the average, yet MPs (who are no more than glorified social workers – and who are not held to account for their case work) are paid two and half times as much as social workers.
MPs have absolutely no grounds for feeling “bitter about their salary” – unless of course they are willing to accept that the vast majority of us are very significantly underpaid – but such an admission would be very inflationary.