Sunday, September 13, 2009

In Which I Agree With David Cameron

David Cameron has announced that he wants to cut the salaries and perks of MPs, and David Mitchell here attacks this as a crowd-pleasing but ultimately hollow and counter-productive measure.

Now I don't particularly like either David, but Mitchell makes some good points here so I am tempted to go along with him. But, regrettably, I feel that I have to stand up for Cameron on this one, albeit that I agree that his reasons are entirely crowd-pleasing rather than well thought through.

Mitchell brings out the old truism about better salaries and perks leading to better of MPs. But this assumes that 'better MPs' is synonymous with 'MPs with the best prospects in big business and other high-salary jobs'. It assumes that it is crucial to compete for such high flyers against the investment banks, law firms and PR companies. But is this actually true?

Of course the salary for MPs should be set at a reasonable level. But last time I looked, wanting a high salary was not a good reason to go into politics. There was once this quaint idea that MPs were public servants, and that you went into politics because you wanted to make things better, not because it paid nearly as well as the corporate world and had better hours. Honestly, if your primary objective is to get rich, I simply do not want you as an MP.

'But the best and the brightest!' I hear my friends cry. 'They go for well-paid jobs, and we will lose them from political life!' Nonsense, says I. Nonsense stemming from the idea that everyone cares only about money. Even looking only at the graduate world, plenty of us do not go into jobs destined to make us fabulously wealthy. Does anyone genuinely believe that the teachers, nurses, social workers, scientists and writers are doing those jobs only because they couldn't get higher paid ones?

Cutting the salaries and perks of MPs may discourage those earning mega-bucks, but if it does then it will only leave the way open for those who care more about public service than their wallets. There is no lack of clever, motivated and well-educated people out there who do not need the lure of wealth to get them into politics. And if we end up with a class of politicians who actually care more about improving the state of the nation and the world, then that can only be a good thing, right?

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