Posts Tagged ‘House of Commons’

The Guardian view on Brexit delusions: the EU27 have a say, too | Editorial

The draft withdrawal agreement has not shaken but hardened the wishful thinking of leavers

Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union is often compared to a divorce: it is painful, expensive and involves breaking up a relationship built without expectation of separation. If one party is determined to do it, the other must go along with it, albeit reluctantly. Even in a unilateral decision there are two sides.

Yet the European response to UK choices has been consistently neglected in Westminster. The Conservative party argued about Britain’s future relationship with the EU as if it could be settled within the cabinet. Labour has acted as if the problem with Brexit is the fact of it being implemented by Tories. The past week has dashed any hope that the motives of EU leaders might be considered more salient once a deal was struck. Faced with Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement, some Tory MPs have demanded that she return to Brussels and come back with a different one. Others say she must stand down so someone else can do the job. Labour’s solution is a general election, resulting in Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister and conjuring up a Brexit that does everything the one now on offer fails to achieve.

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Why do we care what our politicians get paid?

Since payments for MPs were introduced in the early 20th century, the rhetoric used to justify them has changed markedly. Initially, writes Nicholas Dickinson, any remuneration was almost always construed in terms of broadening democratic representation. Related to a landmark 1971 report, however, MPs increasingly began to be depicted as political professionals. This change in framing allowed salaries to increase, but at the cost of lasting public ambivalence.

A common meme about British MPs’ pay goes something like this: it presents figures for the earnings of various public sector workers, pointing out that, compared to 2010, in 2018 a police officer’s starting salary has fallen by £1,000, a newly qualified teacher can expect to earn just £500 more, and a new nurse earns exactly the same as in 2010. By contrast, in the same period, the pay of a freshly elected MP pay has risen by £11,000 – from £66,000 to £77,000 a year.

For many people this is a damming indictment of the self-serving ‘political class’ which runs Britain. Versions of the meme have been retweeted tens of thousands of times, attracting hundreds of mostly hostile comments. Many add that this figure excludes expenses and ‘gold-plated’ pensions. Others argue that the figure might not be so egregious, were it not for the lucrative second jobs that MPs also hold as consultants, lawyers or on the boards of companies.

None of these complaints will be unfamiliar to anyone who has followed contemporary or historic debates over the compensation of elected officials, nor will the defences offered in favour of the current arrangements. The principal response is usually that, contrary to frequent assumptions that MPs set their own pay, remuneration is determined by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) – the body set up in the aftermath of the 2009 Westminster expenses scandal.

These regulatory details can perhaps always be expected to pass the public by. More revealing, however, is the extent to which the comparison clearly fails to compare like with like. Though the job of an MP is in some sense an ‘entry level’ position in Parliament, it is extremely seldom a first job. MPs mostly enter the Commons after careers in other fields, with a history of political experience going back to their teens or early 20s. A more apt comparison than a newly qualified nurse, therefore, would be an NHS GP or Consultant – public sector workers who earn in the range of £60,000 to £100,000.

The deeper question then is not merely how politicians’ pay is regulated, but why we find it so hard to treat MPs as we do other highly skilled professionals in the public sector. Why do we fear that paying our politicians too much will endanger democracy when we don’t ordinarily enquire whether surgeons are too well paid to ensure they are truly motivated by the desire to save lives? What is so special about politicians?

The modern history of payments to MPs begins in the late 19th century, with the rise of the labour movement and the election of working-class MPs with little private income. The first two proposals for some remuneration in the 1890s were blocked by the House of Lords, and payment of £400 a year was ultimately passed by the Liberal government in 1911 against continuing Conservative objections. Outlining the purpose of the payment, however, Chancellor Lloyd George stressed that the sum was ‘…not a remuneration, it is not a recompenses, it is not even a salary, it is just an allowance… to enable men to come here… who [at present] cannot be here because their means do not allow it’.

This ‘representational’ justification would dominate discussions of MPs’ pay for six decades. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was still common to suggest that MPs’ pay might be variable, in order to compensate for the cost of being a member while maintaining members in their original social classes. J.F.S. Ross in Parliamentary Representation (1948), for example, argued that ‘a working-class member, used to making ends meet on a few pounds a week’ could manage on less than ‘a professional or business man used to some degree of comfort and obliged to maintain a fairly high standard of appearances.’ (pp. 136–37).

A concern for representation also features prominently in the discussion of MPs’ pay in Peter Richards’ Honourable Members (1959). Though jettisoning Ross’ more rigid class-based formulation, Richards argued that low pay meant that ‘the Commons is not formed from a reasonable cross-section of the community… [Rather] it is increasingly restricted to those who, through inheritance or because of a particular type of occupation, can supplement their official allowance’ (p. 239).

These issues came to a head from the middle 1960s as a result of increasingly high inflation. In response, the government established the Top Salaries Review Body (TSRB) to regularly review the pay of senior posts in the civil service, the judiciary and Parliament. The report the TSRB produced on MPs’ pay, released in 1971, echoed earlier reviews in recommending an increase in pay. However, its real significance lay in providing what Michael Rush (1974) at the time called a ‘change in philosophy’ on MPs’ pay and expenses.

Unlike previous reviews, the TSRB sought to establish the principle that MPs were professionals engaged in parliamentary work as part of a career in politics. It employed management consultants to study the role of the MPs and compare what they did to professionals in the public and private sectors.

Guided by this approach, and stewarded by Conservative grandee Lord Edward Boyle, the TSRB successfully established a new basis for the remuneration of MPs – in particular a clear distinction between salary and expenses, and a focus on the adequacy of the former to provide MPs with the ability to do full-time political work in the absence of other earnings.

The 1971 TSRB report thus marked a fundamental but little-noticed change in how MPs’ roles were viewed by the state, with long-term consequences. In the first place, the emphasis on more generous expenses ultimately resulted in the 2009 scandal. Yet when the system was reformed in the scandal’s aftermath, the ethos of professionalisation established by the TSRB was retained. Rather than return to emphasising representation, IPSA defended its own controversial pay reforms as providing ‘a modern, professional package’ for 21st-century MPs.

This conceptual shift, achieved largely behind the scenes and away from public view, has created an enduring disjunction between how MPs’ jobs are officially defined and how the public sees them. While the official view holds that MPs are skilled professionals to be paid like judges or GPs, the public continue to see representatives whose remuneration should resemble those who elect them.

Ultimately, therefore, contemporary anger at politicians’ pay reaches the level it does not simply because of pay cuts for teachers or nurses, or even because of gratuitous expenses or gold-plated pensions (whether these really exist or not). Rather, it results more fundamentally from the changing nature of the political class itself and the changing principle on which its pay is based: from democratic representation to professionalised meritocracy.


This article was originally published on Democratic Audit

About the Author

Nicholas Dickinson is PhD student in politics at the University of Exeter. His doctoral research focuses on the regulation of parliamentary salaries and expenses. He tweets at @NickSDickinson.



All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay/CC0 licence.

A day of Brexit chaos

Anushka Asthana joins her colleagues in Westminster on a chaotic and extraordinary day in British politics as Theresa May attempted to build support for her Brexit deal while members of her cabinet resigned in protest. Plus: in an exclusive extract from her autobiography, Michelle Obama reveals how she met her husband, Barack

Theresa May lost two of her Brexiter cabinet ministers in a frenzied morning at Westminster. Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, and Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, resigned in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit deal.

Anushka Asthana headed straight to Westminster for one of the most chaotic days in British politics in years. The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh explains how the hard Brexiters are gathering letters of no confidence in a bid to remove May, while the Labour party stands ready to take power if the government collapses and a general election is required.

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‘Shouting at the seat of power’: remainer gatecrashes 100 TV interviews

‘Mr Stop Brexit’, Welshman Steve Bray, has demonstrated outside parliament every day since September 2017

Millions of viewers will have witnessed his uncanny knack for gatecrashing live TV broadcasts brandishing pro-remain placards, and politicians leaving the House of Commons have become familiar with his daily bellowing.

Dubbed Mr Stop Brexit, Steve Bray has built a reputation for sneaking into the background of interviews outside Westminster.

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I am backing Theresa May’s deal – the alternative would damage Britain | Nicky Morgan

The UK has been in a holding pattern since 2016. We must move forward with the EU withdrawal agreement

• Nicky Morgan is a former Conservative education secretary

There are many paradoxes in the whole Brexit process. And one of them is that my MP colleagues who now say they will use the “meaningful” vote in the Commons on the proposed withdrawal agreement to vote against it objected so strongly when 11 of us rebelled against the government in 2017 to secure that vote. As I know to my personal cost, that rebellion led to a torrent of abuse, threats of violence and deselection for the 11 Conservative “mutineers”.

And now, nearly 12 months later, that vote is almost upon us. We often hear how important votes in the House of Commons are, but this one really, really matters.

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Brexit deal: May in crunch cabinet meeting to decide fate of agreement – Politics live

Cabinet will meet at 2pm to discuss draft deal agreed by UK and EU negotiators

Parliamentary politics is all about managing coalitions. Both main parties are coalitions of different group that share some goals and values, and Theresa May is reliant on at least five groups to keep her in power. They are:

You have made welcome statements throughout the Brexit negotiations that leaving the EU will mean leaving the commons fisheries policy and negotiating as an independent coastal state from December 2020. You said in your conference speech that anything less would be a ‘betrayal of Scotland’ and we completely agree. That has raised expectations in the fishing industry that Brexit will lead to complete control and full sovereignty over domestic waters that we must deliver on.

In order to deliver on these expectations, we could not support an agreement with the EU that would prevent the UK from independently negotiating access and quota shares. That would mean that we would not be leaving the CFP in practice and would be becoming an independent coastal state in name only. At the end of the implementation period, we must be able to negotiate access and quotes shares with the EU and other third countries independently on an annual basis, without any pre-existing arrangement being in force. That means that access and quota shares cannot be included in the future economic partnership, allowing the UK to become an independent coastal state both in principle and in practice.

Just before Cabinet started, letter from Scottish Tory MPs, including Sec of State, hand delivered to No 10 warning against any backsliding on fishing rights - PM simply can't afford to lose those 13 votes

Letter here

The Daily Telegraph’s chief political correspondent Christopher Hope has tweeted that he’s heard two cabinet ministers will resign today.

The pair: international development secretary Penny Mordaunt, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey.

Minister: "Two members of the Cabinet will resign today". Me: "Who?" Minister: "Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey." #BrexitDeal

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Jeremy Corbyn attacks May’s ‘half-baked’ Brexit deal

Labour leader says PM’s plan is inevitable result of ‘two years of bungled negotiations’

Jeremy Corbyn used prime minister’s questions to lambast the government’s planned Brexit agreement, saying Theresa May’s strategy would give parliament a false choice “between a half-baked deal or no deal”.

Using all his questions to focus on the interim withdrawal agreement which will be put to the cabinet at an emergency meeting later on Wednesday, the Labour leader said the plan was the inevitable result of “two years of bungled negotiations”.

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