Opposing Views on MPs’ Pay

commons09:21 Monday 8th September 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: On the subject of money and MPs’ pay, the TUC say everyone in the UK deserves a pay rise. That’s what’s going to be said at the TUC General Congress later on today. It follows that news that MPs might get up to £74,000 a year. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority recommended the increase, saying MPs do an important job, and shouldn’t be paid such a miserly amount. Well on the line is Nick Clarke, Chairman of Cambridgeshire Conservatives. Morning Nick.
NICK CLARKE: Morning Paul. How are you?
PAUL STAINTON: I’m alright. “A miserly amount”. £67,000.
NICK CLARKE: Well that depends on where you sit and what you’re getting paid, I’m guessing. That’s quite interesting. This is always a most difficult subject for politicians, whether it’s at the local level or nationally. Politicians don’t like this subject at all, because whatever is the outcome, they always get the blame. Now in this case it’s an independent study. And I think the media is missing one point here at the moment. It’s not actually a pay rise, because it’s a renegotiated terms, renegotiated package. My understanding is that the MPs are going to have to give up their golden goodbyes, the money they receive when they are no longer elected, which is clearly a silly thing to hand out anyway. And I also understand it’s going to affect their contributions to pensions, and they’re going to modernise a whole bunch of the expenses which none of us like anyway. And if we throw our minds back to the days of my hero Margaret Thatcher, it was about then that she also encouraged MPs not to take a pay rise. And of course over time the Nelson’s Eye was turned towards the allowances, and a scandal arouse because of it. I think the good news about this is that once we get through this concern about the headline figure, I think MP salaries are then going to be linked to average earnings, which I think is a very sensible way forward.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes, average earnings, which are a third of what MPs are earning. Is that fair? We’ve not had a pay rise Nick.
NICK CLARKE: No, and I don’t get paid anything at all these days, so I sympathise entirely. But at the end of the day I want the best people we can attract into politics to help run our affairs.
PAUL STAINTON: Does this guarantee it, paying them more money? Do we get better politicians?
NICK CLARKE: Well, some politicians are motivated by power, some are motivated by self-importance, some motivated by the rewards I’m guessing. It’s part of the package, and what we don’t want to be doing is paying a salary that doesn’t attract the best. And equally we have to be mindful that we must be paying sufficient that we don’t get involved in any of the old corruption scandals that used to affect our police forces so many years ago, when they weren’t paid enough. So it’s a difficult balance. I think the big bit about this though is linking .. once they can get past this .. linking MPs’ salaries then to some .. you know .. the average earnings rise is a very sensible way forward, and I just wish they would do it with local councils as well. because at least for the MPs it’s an independent authority that sets this.
PAUL STAINTON: Well they set up the independent authority, didn’t they? Let’s be fair.
NICK CLARKE: Yes which is very sensible.
PAUL STAINTON: As independent as possibly the word can be.
NICK CLARKE: Yes, but a lot more independent than MPs actually voting for their own pay rises, which is a complete nonsense, and causes even more political shenanigans, I have to say.
PAUL STAINTON: But you can understand why people have been listening to this this morning. At the TUC there’s going to be a speech later on today from Frances O’Grady, saying we all deserve a pay rise. Why can’t we all have one then? What’s good for the goose has got to be good for all us ganders, surely.
NICK CLARKE: Yes, I would totally agree with that, but as I say, this isn’t a pay rise per se. It’s a renegotiated package, isn’t it? And in business anywhere else, if someone was to come to you Paul and say oh, we’re going to take away some of your pension rights, and all your holidays and all the other good things you get, company car perhaps ..
NICK CLARKE: I know. And in return we’re going to buy those benefits off you by raising a one-off payment increase, that’s quite normal in business, quite normal in negotiating employment rights. So I’m not shocked by that particularly. I think getting it tied then down to something sensible, so we haven’t got to go through this pain every two or three years, is the right way forward.
PAUL STAINTON: Rupert Read is with us as well. He hopes to be the Green candidate for Cambridge at the General Election. Rupert, morning.
RUPERT READ: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Ooh it’s a big earner now isn’t it? Seventy four grand. That must be enticing.
RUPERT READ: (LAUGHS) The point here from a Green point of view is that our MP, Caroline Lucas, has been a shining light of probity on this. Nick as a Conservative says, oh dear, this is a very difficult issue for politicians …
PAUL STAINTON: What do you mean, she’s been a shining light of probity? That’s a very nice sentence. well constructed, but what does it mean?
RUPERT READ: I was just about to explain, if you let me explain.

RUPERT READ: The Conservatives say this is a very difficult issue. For us in the Greens, it’s extremely straight forward. Caroline Lucas stood up in Parliament and said it is quite wrong at this time for us to have MPs getting paid more, when many people in the country are being paid no more, or even in some cases less. And so we have said it’s absolutely simple. There should not be this pay rise. And indeed over time what we would like to see is not just a move to MPs’ pay being tied to increases in average earnings, but MPs’ pay being tied to average earnings. Why should MPs get paid more than the average person in this country gets paid? Because shouldn’t MPs look like the population that they claim to represent? That’s what we believe, and we think that’s a very clear and honest position, and a position that people may find very appealing.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it right though that an MP should get the same salary as a male head teacher? Can you compare or contrast the two do you think?
RUPERT READ: Well I think that what MPs ought to be is people who everyone can look to and say, yes we are all in this together with them. The phrase we’re all in this together doesn’t mean anything if MPs are getting paid far more than the average person. So what we think is that MPs should be recognised as of the population that they’re from, and not some kind of creamed off elite. Unfortunately too many in the political class in this country think of themselves now as something very apart from the population, and we think that’s a very bad thing. So we in the Greens say yes, it’s enough for the average person in the UK, then it’s enough for an MP.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes, there you go Nick. If it’s enough for the average person, it’s enough for an MP.
NICK CLARKE: Well that may be true, but I think trying to make party politics out of this, which is what always happens, I think is disingenuous. It’s nothing to do with party politics.
RUPERT READ: It’s everything to do with party politics Nick. What the Conservatives are for, the Conservatives are for the rich, and the Greens are not. It’s as simple as that I’m afraid
PAUL STAINTON: Nick, sorry. Just .. you say.
NICK CLARKE: Yes. If you can have a grown-up conversation, let’s have a grown-up conversation. The Conservatives are here for the people of this country, whether they’re rich, poor or indifferent.
PAUL STAINTON: Rupert’s making a very clear point, isn’t he?
NICK CLARKE: No he’s not. He’s not. He’s making a political point in the run-up to the elections. I’ve got tons of experience in this Paul as you well know, but political points are always made over this issue.
PAUL STAINTON: And quite rightly.
RUPERT READ: Nick, if you’re really for the people of this country, if you really think that everyone’s in it together, then why don’t you just come out and agree with what I’ve just said, which is that MPs should have the same pay as the average person in this country? It’s a simple proposition. Yes or no Nick
NICK CLARKE: You understand what an average means, I’m guessing, do you? So an average is brought down by all the young people earning eleven and twelve thousand pounds a year.
RUPERT READ: Yes of course. That’s what an average means.
NICK CLARKE: It begs exactly my point, and ..
RUPERT READ: It’s also brought up by all the people earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, who are your friends and your donors.
PAUL STAINTON: What sort of MP would you get? Bear with me. What sort of MP would you get though Rupert for twelve, fifteen grand a year?
RUPERT READ: Well that’s not quite .. the average would be slightly higher than that. The kind of MP you’d get I hope would be somebody like me, who is quite happy to take the average salary, the average person in this country. And if you’re going into politics to earn money, if you want to go into politics to earn a lot of money, then you’re the wrong kind of person to be going into politics.
PAUL STAINTON: So we should do it in a more charitable way Nick.
NICK CLARKE: Well I’m just hearing lots of judgmental comments at the moment, which is not an inclusive view at all, is it? Look, I want the very best politicians, the very best people to run our company .. our country.
RUPERT READ: That was an interesting mistake.
NICK CLARKE: We have the defence of this country at heart. I want sensible people who are not wearing a hair shirt. I want people who want to be driving this country forward, people with great business experience, people from ..
PAUL STAINTON: Can it not be the average person on the street? Could I not contribute? Could our listeners not contribute?
NICK CLARKE: Of course they can. Average people enter politics all the time. But average people by definition can be average, and that’s great, but we also need some top-fliers as well, and we need some people who are not so clever. But the whole point is, you know, parliament governs our country, and we need to make sure we have the very best. But that’s not what this proposal is about. This is IPSA saying we want to renegotiate your current package, and to do that we’re going to buy out some of your rights. That is very normal in business.
RUPERT READ: What the Conservatives are essentially saying here is you need to drive people to become MPs.
NICK CLARKE: Can I just stop you there. This is the fourth time you’ve ..
RUPERT READ: You’ve been speaking for a couple of minutes now. Why don’t you let me have a little turn?
PAUL STAINTON: Go on Rupert.
RUPERT READ: The point about this is that Nick made a very revealing Freudian slip there. He said, the people that are governing this company, ooh I mean this country. The Conservatives essentially think of this from a business point of view. They think of MPs as being the same kind of people as rich business people. That’s not the ordinary kind of person on the street. (NOISES OFF) The Greens are in this for the little guy, and what we say is .. would you let me finish please. The Greens are in this for the little guy, and what we say is if it’s good enough for the average person in this country, then it’s good enough for us. If you vote Green at the General Election, you’ll be voting for someone who is quite happy to be an MP on a salary that the average person in the street gets.
PAUL STAINTON: Would you accept £74,000 though, if you become an MP?
RUPERT READ: I’m sorry?
PAUL STAINTON: Would you accept the £74,000 if you become an MP?
RUPERT READ: What I would do if I become an MP is make a point, if that’s the salary, of giving away a lot of that money to good causes, and saying it’s just a ridiculous amount of money. Nobody needs that amount of money to live off.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s an interesting debate, and one we could have all day.