Should politicians be paid less?

Tommy Sheridan writes eloquently and passionately in his column as he pleads the case for paying health and social care workers better. In doing so, however, he has a go at politicians and their remuneration. I felt this needed a response.

If the fact MPs salaries have increased eight times in the last ten years while the real terms salaries of nurses and carers have been slashed doesn’t make you angry you should check your chest cavity for the presence of a heart and your brain for evidence of a conscience.

In 2010 an MP’s salary was already over-generous at £65,738 but today it stands at an outrageous £81,932 and unlike nurses and health workers they don’t pay for their travel costs or food consumption. The public picks up that tab for the pampered and spoiled MPs along with their second home scam.

On Behalf of Gus and Millions Like Him – Pay Our Carers Properly

Tommy may have a point in relation to some of this. But I have serious concerns about the dangers in undermining the general principle of paying elected representatives well – while insisting that they earn their salary by doing the job to the best of their ability. A job which always carries considerable responsibility and often involves genuinely arduous duties.

The case for paying health and social care workers a wage commensurate with the vital nature of the service they provide stands on its own merits. It is not necessary to portray others as undeserving in order to enhance that case. The comparison with politicians is invidious. Different jobs can be equally important for very different reasons.

Democracy requires participation. Participation requires access. We readily recognise the importance of voter participation and strive to make access to the electoral process as wide and easy as possible. But there is more to democracy than just voting once every few years. To function well, democracy requires participation – and therefore accessibility – at all levels and in all its aspects.

Ours is a representative democracy. Our politicians are supposed to represent their constituents and, in aggregate, to represent society as a whole. If that is to happen, it must be possible for anyone to become an elected representative. There was a time, not so very long ago, when MPs were not paid. That aspect of democracy was open only to the independently wealthy. Which, rather obviously, meant that the independent wealthy were massively over-represented while everyone else was woefully under-represented. Public policy was thereby systemically skewed to favour the privileged few at the expense of the unrepresented many. It remains skewed in the same way today – even if arguably not to the same extent and certainly not so brazenly. Giving MPs a salary was an essential corrective to the grotesque imbalance that inevitably developed when politics was exclusive a rich man’s game. (And it was exclusive to men. But that is just another manifestation of systemic social imbalance that is yet to be fully – or adequately – rectified.)

Nowadays, any working class person can aspire to become an elective representative. Partly because they get support from political parties – yet another aspect of our democracy which depends for its proper functioning on the highest achievable levels of participation. But the accessibility of full time politics also crucially depends on our elected representatives being adequately remunerated. The massive social imbalance of a previous era has been largely corrected. Surely we want that process to continue.

And it is a process. Social imbalances are rarely, if ever, corrected quickly. I can think of only one example of something that brought significant change almost overnight – our public health services.

Imagine if that process of making politics more accessible had started a hundred years earlier. Consider where we might be by now in terms of creating a fairer distribution of wealth and a more equal society. We might even be paying a fitting wage to health and social care workers.

But we’re not. I would suggest, however, that this and other instances of entrenched social inequity will not be more effectively or more speedily corrected by making our democracy work even less well than it does. Yes! It is important that our health and social care workers be properly paid. The justice and sense and utility of that is plainly apparent. But it is also important to ensure that any one of those people can bring the interests of those workers as well as their own knowledge and experience into the system by which public policy is developed and decided.

2 thoughts on “Should politicians be paid less?

  1. Elected politicians should be paid well because their time is taken away from them and they have uproot themselves from their homes. It is a commitment. I get that.

    But they should not have other employment as consultants, executive directors of shell companies or whatever. If they commit to the job of representing the electorate then that is what they should do. It should be a commitment. I’m not so sure a lot of them get that.

    Liked by 3 people

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