In the right direction

MPs with outside interests could be paid lower salary — The Times. Bill Cockburn, head of the Senior Salaries Review Board, has suggested that MPs with outside interests could be paid at a lower rate than ‘full time’ MPs. But Tories, who have disproportionately more outside incomes than MPs of other parties, are already opposing the suggestion.

The simple truth is that, in any other walk of life, a member of staff who is not available for work for the contracted amount of time is paid at a lower rate. Of course, many constituency voters might baulk at the fact that their MP was only part-time — if they knew about it. Although website attempts to track MP outside employments, it will only be from 1 July this year that MPs are required to disclose them. Naturally, many MPs are now curtailing their outside interests to limit that damage this disclosure will bring.

Let me be absolutely clear about this. In my opinion, an MP who works an outside job, or who benefits as a company director (remembering that most companies want MPs as directors because they think it will benefit them) is not concentrating fully on the job.

Actually, I feel that differential salaries is only a step in the right direction. Who should decide which constituencies get part-time MPs, and which get full time MPs? Or should a part-time MP job-share with another part-time MP? In that case, which of them would get to vote on which issues, or would their votes only count for half? Surely the only logical solution is to ban MPs from outside interests all together. If we are to recover any kind of trust at all, we must absolutely decouple money from politics.

What would actually make the most sense would be to freeze a new MP’s assets when they entered parliament, and unfreeze them — fully index linked — when they left. If properly structured, there could be serious incentives to quit. If MPs lived simply as MPs, a generous pension would help those who realised that they had essentially finished what they joined the House for to move on, rather than hanging in for as long as possible, which is what many superannuated politicians seem to do now.

It’s often said that paying any less than the current salary would not attract the ‘right’ kind of people. Evidently there is a kind of person who can be had for £66,000 a year, but not for less. From my point of view, someone who believes that they should be allowed to supplement this income by spending less time on their duties is not remotely the ‘right’ kind of person. Whether they supplement their income through property speculation, or through milking the expenses train, or through outside jobs, what we are talking about is simply greed. And, in my book, greed is not the qualification which sets a man or woman apart as the person who should serve the public in Westminster.

But differential pay is a step in the right direction — provided that the differential is sufficient that the MP makes no profit from outside interests at all.

Money and power may mix now, but they should not in future.

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