I'm going to court controversy again...I know, it's starting to become a bit of a habit, but what can you do when you have so many thoughts and opinions billowing around inside your head?
Today, the subject is MPs.
(cue collective groan)
MPs have been getting a lot of grief recently...most of which is thoroughly deserved (the expenses scandal, for example). But what I'd like to focus on is the issue, brought to the fore recently by Sir Malcolm Rifkind's ill-advised comments and those which came after, of how much an MP should be paid and whether it is appropriate for them to earn money outside of being an MP.
Well, in my humble opinion, whether there is actually a need to answer the second question depends on what the answer is to the first.
So let's start at the beginning.
An MPs basic salary is, so we're told, £67,500 per annum - now this doesn't include all that money they can claim (legally or illegally) as expenses, and I'm not going to get into that here.
On the face of it, £67,500 per annum looks like a pretty tidy sum - it's a lot more than the average salary in the UK (about £25,000), though it's a lot less than a lot of people make - bankers, for example. Nonetheless, it's a pretty good gig if you can get it and, contrary to what Malcolm 'Please-Take-My-Foot-Out-Of-My-Mouth' Rifkind might contest, it is plenty enough for any sensible person to live on.
However, we need to be clear precisely what that £67,500 is buying. Are we purchasing the MP for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Or are we requiring that individual, like the rest of us, to work something between 45-50 hours a week, with maybe a little bit of overtime thrown in now and again? You see, this is important because if we are expecting the former (24/7) then that £67,500 suddenly equates to something a lot less when you think of it as an hourly rate - say £20-25,000...and I really do think that the 24/7 commitment is what we expect from our MPs, that they turn up at fundraisers in the morning, visit schools in the afternoon, then hold surgeries in the evening before answering a few letters and e-mails before they go to bed - oh, and we expect them to be doing the rounds at weekends too! Now if that's what we think they should be doing (and provided that that is what they actually are doing), then you'd have to argue that being paid £67,500 for a job which fills every waking minute of every day is actually not the best gig in the world.
But what if we look at it from the other side. If an MP works 45-50 hours a week for their constituents (which as I said before is not unreasonable and is largely in line with what the rest of us work) the salary of £67,500 does begin to look generous. In my opinion, if we the electorate are of the view that an MP should put in the same hours as the rest of, but no more, then I'd be inclined to suggest that that salary be trimmed somewhat...which then brings us on to the second question, that of whether MPs should be allowed to earn money outside their activities as an MP. My view on this is quite simple - the answer is yes, provided the activities from which they earn money are not linked to their role as an MP. So, for instance, if an MP uses their free-time to write a book on the history of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and gains income from sales of such a book, then that's fine; however, if they gain income as a non-executive director of a local company on the basis of their political connections, then that is a no-no.
So, to summarise:
We need to decide exactly what we expect our MPs to be doing before we decide on whether they are appropriately paid - if we want 24/7 commitment, then we need to be willing to pay for that; if we just expect 40-50 hours a week (as is the norm) then we need to trim the current salary a little but allow MPs to generate additional income from activities that are not linked to their role as an MP.