There has been talk in political circles recently about what level of remuneration Members of Parliament should receive when their time in office ceases. In particular, the discussion has focused on whether the outgoing leader of the Conservative Party and, therefore, the Prime Minister, Liz Truss, was entitled to a yearly expenses allowance of £115k for life – if she wishes to accept. This is an offer is made to all outgoing PMs. The allowance is for ongoing expenses relating to diary commitments, police protection at personal events a former PM attends, stationary, staff, and travel.
The foregoing followed a particularly volatile period in British politics, in which the flames of economic turmoil were fanned by a highly controversial and damaging budget by the Truss government’s Chancellor, Kwazi Kwarteng, resulting in the resignations of Kwarteng as Chancellor and Truss as PM.
The view of this writer is that Liz Truss, or any other ex-PM, should receive payments in line with the going rate at the time of their office. They should not be cossetted, and especially not for life, with an “expenses allowance” of the present magnitude. This situation is outrageous, unfair, and, over time, expensive. In the case of Liz Truss, her extremely short tenure as the UK PM, exemplifies this viewpoint. (It is to be noted that Theresa May, UK Prime Minister 2017-2019, is the only living PM who has not accepted her “expenses allowance”). The question of an MP’s salary is a little more difficult to navigate.
There is a view, held strongly by some, that, “apart from the (usually) self-employed, like top lawyers, it would be ridiculous for gifted young to middle-aged persons, at the top of their profession, to consider entering politics.” Politicians are probably paid well enough while in office, but long-term employment is a very risky probability. The risk is that after a few terms, no matter how able politicians may be, they could wind up being tossed out of office and on the dole.
Some who adhere to this perspective further consider that this is a risk that few top people would be inclined to take, so we wind up with the “moronic self-seekers” that we have. A well-paid senior scientist, banker, academic, etc., would have difficulty re-entering their profession after 5 – 10 years, or more, in Westminster, so they would not contemplate taking the risk of getting into politics, regardless of their convictions or abilities.
Furthermore, and with respect to pensions, the foregoing view considers that the pensions we pay to ex-politicians are poor, and not worth the risk of entering the political arena. In view of this, it is held that the pensions paid to ex-politicians should at least be equal to what they would be getting as a salary, had they stayed in their (top level) “old job”. It is not stated, however, what would be the pension payments if ex-politicians were subsequently to be re-employed in their former profession and at their concomitant salary. Would their level of pension from political service remain the same?
In the event of the system above outlined being the case, then, it is considered, we should see a sharp increase in the calibre of our politicians. However, there is a fatal flaw in this perspective.
The viewpoint outlined in the above seems to favour the practice of politicians coming from the professional classes, where salaries and pensions tend to be at the higher end of financial remuneration, a situation that may favour one or other of the political parties. The flaw is that the democratic system of government, as practised in the UK, is a system of government that requires politicians to represent a multitude of different constituencies in the country and, therefore, for the political representatives to themselves be of mixed occupational backgrounds – more of a reflection of the typology of their constituency.
The complication, therefore, is that parliamentary representatives may well be native to the constituencies they represent, and in so being, have a completely different social and economic background to that described above for politicians who have a professional background.
In this context, it is useful to reflect about the parliamentary representatives who come from less affluent backgrounds, e.g., a bus or train driver, metalworker, carpenter, dockyard worker, farmer, local council worker, or union official? Should they be content with receiving their former income whilst others receive the salaries of, for example, a lawyer, doctor, dentist, hedge-fund manager, business leader, or entrepreneur? The latter often become relatively wealthy before they “offer their services” to the business of governance. But they represent only a specific, and limited, area of life from which persons in any form of governance – local, regional, or national – come.
Politics is not, or should not be, an elitist career – that is a way to the corruption of the enterprise. Such politics then becomes the job of serving the elite, the powerful, the wealthy, and not THE PEOPLE. If that process and conclusion is naïve, then I stand accused.
There are very few, if any, areas of employment that could, or even should, guarantee life-long incomes at the one affluent level. There is a distinction here between employment earnings and inheritance. Serving THE PEOPLE (politics) could be described as an employment deserving of the title of a “calling”, in the same manner, perhaps, as being a social worker, priest, hospital worker, social carer, youth worker, that is, a vocation involving the personal caring of other persons in response to an inwardly felt call or summons. Genuine service to other persons is not an opportunity to feather one’s nest whilst doing something that provides prestige, affluence, and security in the process.
Being a politician has its demands – financial, personal, familial, and career or job implications. But persons who go into politics knowing that their time in office, as well as their salary, is probably limited, are likely to use their time and opportunity to be better servants than otherwise. It is also worth remembering that politicians are elected by their constituents – THE PEOPLE. Being a representative of THE PEOPLE is not a job for life and should not give politician privileges that are not generally enjoyed by THE PEOPLE whom they serve.
Call this idealism, but in any field of service determined by THE PEOPLE, there should not be an elite from which politicians are chosen or those whom politics separates into a privileged class.
Politicians are persons who join a political party from a variety of backgrounds – professions, trades, commerce, skilled and unskilled. On behalf of the party and the people who comprise its membership, whilst in office they work, whether at local, regional, or national level, to improve and enrich the lives of all THE PEOPLE. In the case of national government, the example with which this article commences, when their role, either in government or opposition, has concluded, they are able to re-connect with the grass roots of their party return to their previously normal way of life. The rewards ebb and flow with the direction of their working lives and political careers.
Their reputation, association, professionalism, etc., enable them to slot back into the career, job, and attendant way of life and culture they left. Or, perhaps, they choose another pathway through life, with all the related concerns for oneself and family that such a move brings. It is to be expected that ex-politicians should not have been so indulged whilst being in political service that, once they have left the service of THE PEOPLE, they need, or expect, to receive all the benefits (including salary and allowances) they once may have enjoyed in political service.
Politics is the focus on, the knowledge of, and effort expended in, the service of others – not oneself!