Coffee House

When politicians were more than mere politicians

21 April 2014

A friend has sent me a copy of a memo sent by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (William Glenvil Hall) to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Hugh Dalton) on 19 September 1945. It discusses the salaries and expenses of MPs and ministers. At that time, MPs received £600 a year (roughly £22,000 today). The memo recommends no increase. It argues, however, that free travel facilities should be extended to allow Members to travel between London and their homes (generally assumed not to be in their constituencies), and that ‘consideration should be given’ to ‘providing a secretarial service to Members at reasonable rates’. It points out that legitimate parliamentary expenses can be set off by MPs against income tax. ‘Free postage should not be granted’, it also states. Today, of course, all such things are given gratis and MPs earn £66,396 p.a., so they have become much more unpopular. Perhaps the key underlying assumption behind this austere memo is that MPs can (and, by implication, should) earn money from other sources. Nothing has depressed me more in the latest expenses row than the description of MPs (by an MP) as ‘650 public servants’. They should serve the public, yes, but they should not be state employees. If the state alone pays them, the state alone controls them. The voters, in turn, notice this and resent it. Any MP will understand his country better if he has to earn his own living in it, and it is rubbish to say that he/she does not have the time. Because of ‘family-friendly’ hours and the fact that the coalition (thank goodness) does not want to make tricky new laws before the election, many MPs are currently working in Parliament less than three days a week for less than eight months of the year.

This is an extract from Charles Moore’s column in this week’s Spectator. Click here to subscribe to the Spectator.

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  • El_Sid

    £600 translates to £22k using RPI. If you consider that average earnings in 1945 were just under £214 and are now nearly £25k, £600 in 1945 translates to £69,419/year. That makes £66,396 seem like a bargain.

    I wonder how journalists’ salaries have changed over the same period?

  • Frank

    Moore, so you think the public dislike MPs purely because of their salary? That is not a very intelligent point of view.
    The public dislikes MPs because they fiddle their expenses, because they have second jobs / consultancies that may bring about conflicts of interests, because they are thick, because they get drunk / other and bring Parliament into disrespect, because they are mind-bogglingly simplistic in their analysis of what is wrong with Britain and how to cure it, because they don’t listen to the public, because they cling to absurd theories even when these have been disproved in other countries, etc, etc.
    In other words, there are dozens of reasons why the public consider most MPs to be pond-life, but the salary isn’t the issue, other than the fact that we resent paying anything for the employment of pond-life!

  • disqus_KdiRmsUO4U

    There seems to be a problem with all this politician bashing.
    Without politicians/political parties how is the country to be run ?

    I deffo don’t believe that the political class is any more corrupt than any other sector.
    For example it’s clear to me that many upper echelon admin types in large corporations are looting said corporations with gusto.
    As for the sub prime mortgage debacle !!!

    I do think that over the last 50 years or so the nation has been run into the ground but so have many private businesses….so where’s the difference re capability ?

    Humans tend to be self serving and morally suspect whatever they think of themsleves.

    As Groucho Marx said…count me out.
    Karl Marx may well have thought likewise.

    i do remember Malcolm Muggerige saying that those who sought political power should be the last to obtain it.

  • swatnan

    3 days a week!!! 8 months a year!!! Thats more than the striking teachers get!!!!
    And the NUT have justice on their side. All Teaching Unions must come together to make a bigger impact and rid us of Gove who is a disaster at Education.

  • marksl

    Charles Moore does not say what he thinks MPs should be paid. He implies that because they are paid £66,400 not £22,000, they are more unpopular than they were. This is absurd.
    Compared to the senior civil servants they have to scrutinise, and the many well-paid bosses of businesses and quangos who come before them when select committees are hearing witnesses, ordinary MPs are very badly paid. The result is that they are not the best we could have and they are carrying less weight as time moves on. (MSPs in Edinburgh and AMs in Cardiff are in no better position.)
    An ex-MP of considerable experience, who is standing next year to return to Parliament (and is likely to do so), told me recently that he would be taking a serious pay cut to return to the Commons. Nevertheless he wanted to serve again. How many people are not willing to do so, because the pay is so poor compared to what they could earn elsewhere?
    The expenses issue can be solved by specified payments for offices and staff, and for the expenses of living in London, plus the traditional first-class rail fare between constituency and Westminster. It was the absurd ‘Additional costs allowance’ with its detailed expenses claims for everything that discredited MPs. It was not their fault so much as that of Harriet Harman the Leader of the House, and the Speaker, in the 2005-2008 period, who failed to solve the problem before the press revealed the claims.
    Charles Moore might like to tell us what annual income (or ‘net profits’ as he is self-employed) he has declared in each of the last five years. No doubt he kept it down by some plentiful business expenses claims.But it must have been much more than an MP earns, even before his new biography of Margaret Thatcher came out. Not that (given the work he has put into it) one begrudges him the income from it.

    • Kaine

      Indeed. And this is without mentioning that IPSA costs rather a lot of money and generates endless work for MPs’ staff.

      There are innumerable weird permutations too. For instance, one isn’t allowed to buy books on an IPSA card, even Erskine May, which is the manual on how to do the job!

  • Curnonsky

    Money isn’t the heart of the problem – it’s caste. Politicians today spend their post-university lives wholly within the confines of the political caste; they view the rabble beyond their parapets with a mixture of fear/alarm/contempt. Forcing them to earn outside income would simply encourage even more influence-peddling than we have today. Instead something must be done to break the power of the caste, for instance by requiring local selection of candidates via primaries.

    Same ought to go for the journalists who are members of the caste, by the way.

  • Kaine

    Except these politicians might visit their constituencies once or twice a year, as opposed to the constant attendance which is necessary now. Further, the author continues to perpetuate the misunderstanding that it is only time in Parliament that MPs are working. The reason most of them hurry back to the constituencies Wednesday night/ Thursday morning is because they have appointments there.

    Lastly, the breadth of concerns for different MPs is vast. If you represent a reasonable wealthy constituency with a largely professional and educated population then your constituents often have the resources to tackle problems themselves. If you represent a poor, inner city constituency with long term issues of unemployment and public order, then you end up acting as a Citizens Advice Bureau.

    • Mrs.JosephineHyde-Hartley

      I can remember an M.P. a few years ago ( in the last Labour government) complaining the job was akin to some glorified social worker. But then I suppose it takes one to know one, as we say up north.

      Surely, being a member of Parliament will be what one makes of it. I hope so for the sake of flexibility, generosity and compassion. M.P’s must be there for constituents I think, on the face of it.

      • Kaine

        Chris Mullin I believe it was, and indeed it can be.

        I think the problem is you can do as much, or as little, as you want, particularly in a safe seat. So you have MPs who do very little and those who work non-stop. We’d hope to have the latter, but as long as they walk through the correct lobby the central party doesn’t really care.

  • dave244

    The problem with and i quote ” Any MP will understand his country better if he has to earn his own living in it ” is the will only understand the bits they work in and as most M.P’s work in the city or on the city boards as consultants they like the rest of the Westminster village have no ideal how the country outside of London actually works the only time they come out is at election time when they want your votes or when they want to look visible they write a piece in the paper.
    They would be better off getting out and talking to real people but the only time they do that is at a meeting which has been arranged by their local party offices so therefore full of their own supporters

  • Tom Tom

    Parliament sat in the afternoon and evening so MPs could do outside business in the morning such as being in court; MPs tended to take silk faster than other barristers. It was lucrative to be legislator and QC; just as being Sir Available for Hire provided “Christmas tree decorations” for Tiny Rowland’s board at Lonrho.

    Maybe corruption was more discreet in those days ? It was certainly there, and as we know from Cyril Smith inter alia it was not just financial corruption that the media/police swept under the carpet. One wonders what files are suppressed inside newspapers today for future generations to wonder how such perversions were hidden, or how useful hiding them was to the blackmailer wanting policy favours.

    Chamberlain had the phones of his Ministers and rivals tapped, but today we have Five Eyes doing it to all and sundry, so sundry does as he is told to avoid that rent-boy moment.

    I do not think casting back to an era where many MPs had trust fund incomes – not just Conservative – Labour was attractive to public schoolboys by 1945 with their family money – is helpful in understanding how much more The State spends and regulates today making bribing MPs more attractive than in 1945

    • Andy

      Personally I think Parliament should not sit before 2:30pm as it once did. I want MPs to do other things aside from Politics and to me one of the main problems today is that we have a ‘professional political class’ who have done nothing but politics ala Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. I suppose we get the rulers we deserve.

  • BuBBleBus

    Well if MP’s have time on their hands, it should not be a
    problem for Parliament to engage in the United Kingdom instead of just in
    Westminster and hold some sittings in Edinburgh, some in Cardiff and every now
    and then in Belfast. How else do our politicians think they are going to hold
    the Queen’s realm together in the coming years?

  • anyfool

    Todays politicians are eunuchs, there is none that can seriously be called an independent thinker.
    There is no point prognosticating on what they should do, they are incapable of doing it.
    Look at the three main party leaders, they are an identikit of what we proles are told to like
    Three Bland Mice
    See how they run, enough of that, I am already contemplating suicide.

    You would have to be feeble minded to want to have a conversation with any of them let alone a pint.

    • Kitty MLB

      The new family friendly hours just show how mollycoddled politicians now are.
      I am surprised that someone has not suggested a crèche in Westminster,
      and not for the children.
      They like the lifestyle of being a politician far too much, especially when linked
      to the EU. I wonder how much they actually do for their constituencies,
      I cannot imagine Milipede having chats to the good people of Doncaster.

      • anyfool

        A crèche would be apt if Tomás de Torquemada were nurse.

        • Kitty MLB

          That is so very cruel. Maybe taking place in Malefiz House,
          but that is even more wicked.

      • Kaine

        There is a crèche in Westminster. It’s in One Parliament Street across from Bellamy’s. I’m not sure how this is all that different from the patricians of yesteryear packing off their kids with nannies and boarding schools.

    • monty61

      I’m not sure I’d call Redwood a Thinker. Blogger yes, but the two do not necessarily equate. Most of the witterings of his that I’ve read are mere variants of the straight Tory line (from a mixture of eras, perhaps) with a dash of Eurosceptic-light thrown in. I’ve yet to read an original observation of his never mind an original proscription.

      • Andy

        I disagree. His writings are far better informed than the general run of the mill MPs. I would rate him, Douglas Carswell, Frank Field and also Iain Duncan-Smith, the latter two being about the only people who understand the Welfare State.

        • monty61

          Informed = Reader. Not Thinker. I agree he’s reasonably well informed. It’s his analysis that’s lacking – I’ve never seen him add anything at all to the broader discussion (seldom even a new source of information). Carswell, Field and IDS are all way ahead of him when it comes to fresh perspectives.

      • Kitty MLB

        Although I generally agree with you. May I be excused for saying
        that John Redwood is very much a pondering type. I remember when he
        said Ann Boleyn was the first Eurosceptic in the fact she thought that
        England should deal with its own problems and Rome should keep its nose out of our affairs. And I shall agree with Andy in saying the brilliant Douglas Carswell is also in the same vein.

  • duyfken

    So Mr Moore is making the point that MPs do not have enough to occupy their time or to justify their salary and their allowed expenses, and they all should get a proper job, presumably just attending Westminster as moonlighting. I agree they are under-employed.

    Although they have insufficient duties to fill their time on parliamentary matters due to the delegation of sovereignty to Brussels, I suggest Mr Moore has the wrong end of the stick.

    Mr Moore should be directing his attention at what MPs now do as against what they should be doing were it not for the shameful abdication of responsibility by so many occupants of No.10, allowing the EU to be our masters.

  • Kitty MLB

    May I take the utter liberty of changing your words
    around and saying: what if politicians saw themselves as mere
    politicians and that being a politician was not a career but a duty
    to serve. I am sure those fellows back in the 40s would have
    got that.

    • telemachus

      If you invoke duty to serve you induce Powell style fanaticism
      Better career when we get more level councils

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