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Pay more than peanuts, get more than monkeys

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 02, 2013

  • The rich ruling elite?

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It is often said that "if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys" – which might explain why so many of today's politicians appear to lack the necessary intelligence to run the country.

Recent examples show just how poor our leaders are at grasping concepts easily understood by the majority.

A charitable analysis of a recent Ed Miliband interview with James Naughtie on BBC Radio 4's Today programme might be that the Labour leader was using the tried-and-tested political tactic of evasion. However, the fact was he simply appeared unable to get to grips with the issue on the table. At a time when Coalition cuts are doing such damage to the lives of ordinary people, the Opposition should be romping it. Yet anyone hearing Miliband's delivery – that of an annoyingly pedantic sixth-former not getting his way in a school debating society – would conclude that Labour has no chance of ever being elected with him at the helm.

Then there's the Tories' arch self-publicist, Nadine Dorries, who infamously bunked off work at Whitehall to take part in the cheesy TV reality show, I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Listening to Mrs Dorries spout forth on a range of issues during a recent episode of Question Time was proof to anyone who needed it just how devoid of intellect are some of our MPs. A classic rent-a-gob performance worthy of a caricature taxi driver, Mrs Dorries' "analysis" was debunked and ridiculed by audience members.

And the Liberal Democrats are no better. Their Tory-lite leader sits "at heel" beside his master on the front bench, barely making a peep. When he does speak out, his comments are mere platitudes delivered with that practised expression of concern. What a modern British political system desperately needs is serious, informed, fact-based debate – not the sort of off-the-cuff rants that have become all too prevalent. Is it any wonder voters are turning their backs on party politics and the behaviour of Parliament, choosing instead to seek more erudite debate on Facebook, Twitter or the Western Daily Press letters page?

But how are we to achieve it? It may be an extremely unfashionable point of view, but perhaps if we paid our MPs a salary that reflected the important role they ought to play in running the country, the calibre of those who stand for high office might improve. After all, isn't one of the reasons we currently have such a high proportion of mega-rich MPs – and in particular members of the Government – precisely because they don't need the money: the salary isn't a factor in their career choice.

The reality is that many people in well-paid careers wouldn't even consider standing for Parliament for £65,000 a year. The hassle, the inconvenience, the disruption to family life, the invasion of privacy, the constant scrutiny and the antisocial hours – not to mention grilling by a voracious media – is just not worth it. Increasing the salary to match – or overtake – that of company bosses and top level public servants might act as a sufficient carrot. It surely follows that clever, thoughtful, concerned individuals might be prepared to leave their well-paid jobs to offer themselves as potential MPs.

If, as the media obsession with Parliament would lead us to believe, these people are so vitally important to the future of Britain, then they should be remunerated accordingly. How, for instance, can it be right to pay the region's MPs a quarter of the salary paid to a local authority chief executive? By the same token, how can an MP work side by side in Whitehall with civil servants earning three times as much?

A survey, carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and completed anonymously, found that 69 per cent of MPs believe they are underpaid on £65,738. An acceptable salary, they suggest, is £86,250. Admittedly, £65,000 a year is the sort of money most of us can only dream of seeing in our wage packets – but we are not expected to run the country.

One MP wrote in the survey: "Media commentators should shadow a week in the life of an average MP to understand the pressure, breadth of knowledge and social skills required to do the job. They have no idea."

Critics such as Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, disagreed, arguing that increasing politicians' wages at a time of pay freezes, benefit caps and spending cuts would be "completely unpalatable to taxpayers".

But what is the alternative: a House of Commons occupied exclusively by rich toffs? We only have to look at the income of the current Cabinet to realise we have already returned to the bad old days, when the super-rich and privileged considered themselves "born to rule".

The facts are irrefutable: David Cameron's coalition team of ministers has been drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of the financial elite. More than 20 Cabinet members are worth in excess of £1 million. David Cameron alone has £4million, while Nick Clegg can boast £1.9 million. Then there's Philip Hammond (£7.5million), George Osborne (£4.6million), Jeremy Hunt (£4.5 million), Iain Duncan Smith (£1million), Michael Gove (£1million) and a dozen more.

The British public deserves better – and perhaps if MPs were paid a more realistic wage we would cease to be micro-managed by monkeys.

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