Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Politicians Pay, Patronage and Equity

Politicians Pay, Patronage and Equity

Place your duties before reward.

Appointing good people to government and paying them well is an ancient Confucianist concept .
Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister of Singapore, National Day Rally Speech, 20 August 2000

The quotations above illustrate how easy it is to misquote an individual thinker, especially when the misquotation supports your own point of view, and thereby legitimises it.

I've selected those quotations because they sum up the divide between those who think that States membership is to some degree, even if paid, a public duty, and those who argue that you have to increase the pay of States members to what they are really worth.

It might be thought that most people, in these times of economic austerity, regards States members pay as very good indeed. It is not perhaps as much as some members might gain from private employment, but that is their choice. After all, there was a time, not so long ago, when States members had no salary at all, and anyone who entered the States had to be self-sufficient, or financed by the goodwill of others.

But there are those - and these are people making submissions to the Electoral Commission - who think that States members should be paid more - to attract the "right kind of person"! Even though unemployment is high, the minimum wage rise is small, and there is talk of a pay freeze for the public sector, these people think that States members pay - at over £44,000 a year - should be more still!

Here are a few of those submissions - I've left the names out, but browsing the online submissions will reveal who they are:

“I am in favour of fewer, high quality States Members receiving a higher salary to reflect the responsibilities of the position. “

“At present the salary is far too low and so attracts those who are unable to earn this amount in the workplace or those who are retired or have personal means to bring up their salaries. I am aware that some are sponsored by business, but this is not consistent or offer equality of opportunity. By reducing the numbers of members the salaries could be increased at little cost to the tax payer. “

“With Ministers and Deputies being paid a good salary and conforming to minimum requirement qualification to ensure good calibre of States member. I would suggest £100k maximum for working full time in the role of States Members with no other Directorships or involvement with business to ensure ethical representation. Working full time would give a better cover and ensure the roles were busy enough to employ them full time."

“Reducing the number of states members to 31 would allow for a significantly higher salary to be paid, which would encourage a wider range of candidates with a broader experience of business and general life experience than the current salary band allows. “

“Members also need a more realistic remuneration package, allowing them an opportunity to focus full time or at least 40 hours per week on the job of an elected professional politician. We need full time members not part time and this can only be achieved by paying an appropriate salary and the provision of the necessary administrative support.”

In 1962, Roland Young set out the basic argument why MPs in the UK should not have such high salaries:

“Although the salaries of Members are small compared with those of the higher branches of the Civil Service and of the staff of Parliament, there would be considerable opposition to increasing the salaries of Members to any very large sum. The opposition to increased salaries is based, primarily, on the theory that parliamentary work is a public service and not to be measured by ordinary standards of income.” (1)

There is of course a major difference between politicians on a small Island - there is not the travel between constituencies that can be hundreds of miles away. Nor are there late night sessions of the States, as in the UK Government; if business goes on too long one day, it is adjourned to the next.

Another argument against excessive pay is that it divorces the politician from those people they should represent. In 2007, the UK MPs wanted an increase over their 60,000 a year salaries, although their pay was more than double that of the average worker of the time.

Martin Bell, former independent MP and anti- sleaze campaigner, said: 'I find it extraordinary. It is a huge privilege to be a Member of Parliament. MPs are paid far above the average salary of the people they represent. (2)

Martin Bell also noted how Parliament worked - and that it is actually in session for less than half the year.

“None of this is related to performance. The rules are so drawn - by the MPs themselves, of course - that sheer bone idleness cannot be grounds for complaint against a Member of Parliament.”

“Those who press for self-enrichment, including senior backbenchers on both sides of the House, believe that they should be paid like CEOs or captains of industry, with rich rewards to match their responsibilities. This is their case: pay peanuts and you'll get monkeys.”

The answer to this is simple.

“Nearly [pounds sterling]60,000 is not peanuts to most people, but far higher than the average income in even the wealthiest constituency. MPs should be without ambition to play in the fat cats' league.”

“Rather the reverse. They are public servants. They have a duty to set an example of admirable conduct and honest politics. Most MPs, but by no means all, do set an example - too often quite unnoticed by the people who know a gravy train when they see one. “

“If the proposed pay increases go through, they will send a signal, actually, a false one, that most MPs are in politics for what they can get out of it. NOT only that, but once elected they will be increasingly reluctant, in later years, to retire from positions of such lucrative obscurity.”

“Hence the difficulty the Conservatives had to ease out the so-called 'bed-blockers', - elderly Members who had already served in a Parliament for a term too many - and replace them with new blood. All parties have bed-blockers, and they will soon have an extra incentive to stay on the payroll. (3)”

The principles behind paying politicians is that no one should be unable to stand because of lack of means; that being part of the States of Jersey should be open to all.

It was clearly unfair, as happened in the first instance, that members should be means tested, so that those who had other sources of income were harder up than other members. People with other means, perhaps from investments, should not be penalised either. That was the real equality of opportunity.

Between those two principles, politicians should be paid - but not excessively.

If they are paid excessively, as these submissions suggest, expect deposits for elections to rear their head again to ensure that the poorer people are excluded. And also, as the Daily Record noted in 2007, more Type B politicians:

“So what makes someone suddenly decide they would like to become an honourable member? I give you two choices:”

“a) A selfless desire to devote your life to helping others and making your country a fairer, better place to live.”

“b) A huge ego, a lust for power, local and perhaps national celebrity, a great salary, brilliant pension, endless perks . . . and more days off than Santa.”

“Now, think about your own MP and decide which box he ticks off.”

So should Ministers be paid more than backbenchers, because they have managed to gain the supporting votes of fellow members for their post? In the UK, you are talking about a huge number of backbenchers to a small cabinet.

In Jersey, the proportion is much smaller, and with collective responsibility, this would create even more incentive for the remuneration to act as an incentive to stay on side, and not rock the boat. In other words, the loss of pay could act as a driver towards a more uniform style of politics, where patronage is more important than connecting to the electorate.

A patronage system would be where a Chief Minister, after winning an election, nominates Ministerial posts to his/her supporters as a reward for supporting him or her working toward victory.

And while politicians pay is set independently, there should be a “double lock”. It should be independent – that is right and proper – but it should also be locked so that it cannot exceed rises in the public sector pay awards. In other words, it can increase at the same rate, or less, but not greater. That would seem to be common justice and fairness.

(1) The British Parliament. Roland Young, 1962
(2) Pittance! Twice the Average Salary but MPs Think They're Underpaid. Newspaper Title: The Daily Mail. April 7, 2007
(3) Boot out the Boot-Fillers - as MPs Demand a 22% Pay Rise, MARTIN BELL Argues That They Are Destroying Trust in Public Life. The Mail on Sunday. December 4, 2005.
(4) Lazy MPs Get More Days off Than Santa. Daily Record.July 31, 2007.

1 comment:

James said...

As suggested elsewhere: we can test the theory that better pay equals better members in two ways, and do it cost-neutrally.

The Constables are not elected members: legally they are elected as Constables and sit ex officio in the States. They do not swear the Members' Oath. So: we pay the constables expenses only, no salary. We reclaim 12 x £42k, and we divide it among the other members - £14k each less a little. We now have a class of better-paid professional politicians, and a class of unpaid amateurs: we observe the results with interest.