...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 3146: Alan Duncan-Doughnuts IS a Plonker… but does he have a point?


So, the Conservatories’ Spokesperson for Making Mr Ian Hislop’s Job Easier has once again placed himself in mouth-foot conjunction, caught on hidden camera with the suggestion that MPs are “living on rations”.

Oh throw up your fluffy feet and decry how dreadful, greedy, out-of-touch, etc, etc copyright all overpaid news-editors.

Except, let’s be honest he was not SERIOUSLY comparing MPs’ sixty-four thousand pounds-a-year salaries to wartime comestibles; he was using LIGHT-HEARTED language to explain the point he was making. No joke can survive ultra-po-faced analysis on the The Today Programme… and, let’s face it, Mr Duncan-Doughnuts IS that joke.

Firstly, don’t we WANT politicians who will try and talk in a way that has wit and character and occasional total idiocy, rather than the desperate robot-code that Mr Balloon or Lord Mandelbrot speak in all the time? It is this very act of taking someone to task for their WORDS rather than their MEANING that drives politicians into the realms of never saying or meaning ANYTHING. I mean far be it for me to suggest that Mr Doughtnuts is anything other than a venal nincompoop, but at least the very unpredictability of the next way that he’s going to cock up makes him more worthwhile than most of the grey-faced cyborgs in the Shadow Cabinet.

Secondly, lets remember to whom Mr Doughnuts was talking: the editor of a political magazine who had previously made a slightly blunt point by digging up Mr Doughnuts’ garden and planting some pretty flowers. Rather than ordering Smithers to “release the hounds”, Mr Doughnuts had invited the fellow round for tea at the House. That’s really rather admirable. As it turned out, blitheringly naïve too. Yes, like his appearances on Have I Got a Rip Off of the News Quiz For You, it’s because he’s arrogant enough to think that he can outsmart the professional piss-takers. And he can’t. But nonetheless, once again, we are in danger of punishing an MP who is, shock and fluffy horror, actually trying to reach out to someone with an opposite point of view.

But thirdly, concentrating on the unfortunate or otherwise choice of words in this remark is drawing attention away from the point Mr D was trying to make: that we are putting off the very people, the “best” people who are the ones we WANT to be in politics.

Let’s just get a couple of statistics straight here. According to the Office of National Statistics, the MEAN weekly wage in 2008 was £574. That’s equal to £29,848 a year. So MPs get paid a bit more than TWICE the average national wage, not “three times” which is a figure we hear bandied about quite a lot.

Also, bear in mind that people aged sixteen to twenty-one get paid SUBSTANTIALLY less than older workers, which skews that national average down a lot – whereas MPs with few exceptions, tend to be, well, over 21.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a WELL-PAID job, as much as, say, the earnings of two secondary-school teachers. It’s not impossible to make ends meet.

(And I do not have much truck with the Conservatories’ EXCUSES for earnings on the side, be it columns in the Tell-Lies-graph, after-dinner speaking, sitting on the boards of banks and tobacco companies or, if you are Mr William Vague, all of the above. I agree that MPs would be better if they have experience of the world outside Parliament, but I believe that means they should have a different job BEFORE they go into politics not SIMULTANEOUSLY with.)

But it’s not dwelt on that MPs have a full time job in the House of Commons supervising legislations AND a full time job in their constituencies helping and being advocate for their constituents, AND then they have the tedious business of doing campaigning to keep their jobs on top of that. So a good MP can easily end up with a 70 hour week. And yet, when we hear (often ALSO well-paid) commentators suggesting “most people wouldn’t mind doubling their salaries”, they rarely put it as “most people wouldn’t mind doubling their working hours in order to double their salaries”. Because, on the whole, most people WOULD mind doubling their working hours.

But shouldn’t we REALLY be looking for our MPs to be among the six-hundred BEST PEOPLE in the country?

Looking at this “best salaries” league table for 2008, you see that company directors earn an average of over TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND pounds. Is it not the case that we want our MPs to have the talent and drive of these sort of people rather more than the talent and drive of (picking someone from around the national average salary) a workplace hygienist (no offence to workplace hygienists)? For that matter, don’t we want MPs to have the skills to manage top company directors or would we rather businesses ran rings round our legislators?

For that matter, shouldn’t an MP get more than two-thirds the wage of a newsreader on barely-watched BBC News24?

Basically, if we want the BEST people, shouldn’t we expect to pay a BIT more than what you pay for middle management in a not-too-big private company?


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