MPs deserve more. With living standards squeezed, and spending cuts on essential public services deepening, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) recommends an inflation-busting 15% pay rise. MPs expenses will reduce and their contribution to their pensions will rise.
However, at a time of austerity as those on the right-wing rub their hands in glee at the vision of a smaller State, it’s time to face up to one big reality.
For democracy to function our MPs must represent us all. All classes, creeds, colours. But there are too few MPs who are women, or from an ethnic background or with a disability. And MPs from a working class background are now almost extinct. Welcome to the modern parliamentary clone or should that be clown? Mostly cut from the same cloth. Men who are white, middle class and from the political elite. This is fundamentally wrong.
Who cares about class?
As a sledge-hammer is taken to services that the poorest rely on the most, seeing only posh boys and a few posh girls in the House of Commons risks increasing cynicism and apathy towards an `out of touch’ Westminster. Politics has become the preserve of the better off and educated. The working class MPs who played such a crucial role in improving standards for the poor in the 20th century have all but disappeared.
Where are the candidates who have experience of having at some time been skint or jobless? Without insight into being on the wrong side of the tracks, it is no surprise our politicians are happy to support cuts to public services over a genuine clampdown on tax evasion or increasing taxes for the better off.
Some of you will think I’m harping back to the class war of the 1970s. I’m not. I’m merely highlighting the fact that there’s been a shift away from poorer communities being represented by people who properly understand them. It’s an issue that even some Tories are worried about. Take, for example, Denis Skinner. He is often demonised and branded a Dinosaur and was recently told to take his pension by David Cameron during PMQs.
Big business and landowners already have more than their fair share of MPs who know what they want. The Tories and increasingly Labour are seen as being too middle class. This partly explains why fringe parties such as UKIP and the BNP have had minor surges in support as the public wash their hands of the two main parties who fail to represent them.
How has this happened?
The collapse in the number of MPs from traditional working class backgrounds followed Margaret Thatcher’s decimation of industry and attack on the power of the unions. The traditional route for people from poorer/manual work backgrounds has effectively been neutered. Today’s politicians come from a shrinking pool of the middle class, political elite.
Even the Daily Mail warns that working class MPs are becoming an endangered species. According to the House of Commons library, the number has dropped a staggering 75 per cent since 1979 to only 25 MPs, the majority of them Labour.
Because MPs are worth it
So if I’m asked if my MP is worth a pay rise, I will probably say yes. It’s a tough job to do well. If MPs are paid a pittance then even fewer people from poorer backgrounds will be able to afford to put themselves forward. That’s partly why the political system in the USA is so ineffective.
Better pay for MPs will help eradicate the cries of “we don’t get paid enough’ to justify all those extra cosy director positions that make some MPs a nice little earner, at the expense of doing a full time job for their constituency.
But if we fail to deal with the bigger problem of MPs almost exclusively coming from a small prosperous clique, we will be in danger of turning our once-cherished democracy into an Victorian oligarchy with Government by the few, for the few.
- MPs may get pay rise if other perks are cut, says David Cameron (guardian.co.uk)