Posts Tagged ‘Party politics and elections’

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.

The ‘cross-pressured clans’ of British politics: a quarter of the electorate and their values

Having explained how clusters of the electorate have shaped the UK political landscape, Paula Surridge, Michael Turner, Robert Struthers, and Clive McDonnell focus on two of the most ‘cross-pressured’ of these clusters. They analyse their political behaviour in order to illustrate why understanding voters according to their values on multiple dimensions rather than on the traditional ‘left-right’ divide is more crucial than ever.

In our previous piece we introduced the ten values clans identified in the BMG Research report ‘Fractured Politics’. These clans are based on a range of social and economic values. In a political system where the party choice is relatively restricted, and historically the key dividing line between the two main parties has been only on the economic dimension, this produces clans who are ‘cross-pressured’ in their values, sharing the economics of one of the main political parties but not sharing the social values associated with them.

Two clans are caught in this position, the ‘Proud and Patriotic State’ (PPS) and the ‘Orange Bookers’ (OB). The PPS clan are broadly left-wing in their economic values (favouring redistribution and renationalisation) but are socially conservative (with negative views of immigration and multiculturalism, gender equality and identity, and punitive views of law and order). The OB clan, in contrast, has broadly right-wing (or ‘liberal’) economic views but combine this with liberal social values and are in favour of multi-culturalism, gender equality, and take much less punitive views on law and order.

The PPS clan are the largest, making up 15% of the electorate. It is worth stressing this point. The single largest values group within the British electorate have no ‘natural’ party to support as they prefer left-wing economics and social conservativism. The OB clan are less numerous, accounting for 8% of the electorate. Taken together, these cross-pressured clans are one in four of the electorate.

This cross-pressured position is reflected in the political behaviour of these clans, particularly in 2015 before the ‘other’ party’ vote had collapsed. In 2015, around one in four of each of these groups voted for a party outside of the main two parties. The PPS group were the clan most likely to have supported UKIP in 2015 (UKIP gained a 22% share of the vote in this clan), while the OB group were the most likely to have supported the Liberal Democrats (who gained a 19% share among this clan). This highlights how ‘other’ parties, less clearly defined by a single left-right dimension, can attract the votes of these cross-pressured clans. This is especially the case where these ‘other’ parties make strong appeals based on social values (socially conservative values in the case of UKIP and socially liberal values for the Liberal Democrats).

As well as their 2015 voting behaviour, these two clans are particularly distinctive in the education qualifications of their members. The OB clan are the most highly educated of all the clans, well over half of this group hold a degree level qualification (or higher); in contrast the PPS clan are least well educated having both the lowest proportion with a degree and the highest proportion with no qualifications.

The groups are also distinct in terms of their household incomes. Over a third of those in the OB group are in the top 25% of household incomes, compared with less than 15% of the PPS. It is this combination of the economic and the social which produces these cross-pressured positions. The economic interests of the OB group are most likely to be best served by low taxation, but their high levels of education also lead to liberal attitudes on other issues. For the PPS group higher taxation and welfare spending is likely to be in their economic interest but a lack of education leads them to be conservative on social issues.

This is further reflected in the issues they feel are most pressing for the country. For the OB group it is Brexit which most exorcises them: more than 40% of this group say leaving the EU is the most important issue facing society. The NHS appears as their second most important issue, though some way behind Brexit as a concern. The PPS group are much less likely to say Brexit is the most important issue and among this group both immigration (28%) and the NHS (22%) are greater causes for concern. This divide reflects the EU Referendum votes of the two clans. While the OB clan are overwhelmingly remain voters (more than eight in ten voted Remain), the PPS clan are equally overwhelmingly Leave voters.

Given that there were higher ‘third’ party shares for these groups in 2015 and the cross-pressured nature of their value positions, it is especially interesting to look at how they changed in voting behaviour between 2015 and 2017. When faced with parties which seemed to be in decline (and in some cases where no candidate was available), how did these voters negotiate the two main parties?

The OB clan were one of four who saw a declining share of the vote for the Conservatives between 2015 and 2017; these groups are the four most ‘liberal’ of the clans (they were also the four most pro-Remain though the largest swing away from the Conservatives is not among the most pro-Remain group). The PPS group saw a rise in the share of the vote for both the major parties, but this was much larger for the Conservatives than for Labour. In the 2017 election, it appears that economic values were outweighed by social values so that the two cross-pressured clans swung more according to their positions on issues such as multiculturalism, gender equality and the environment than on their position on taxation and welfare.

These cross-pressured clans are especially interesting and sharply illustrate the analytical power of understanding groups according to their value clusters on multiple dimensions rather than relying on ‘old’ heuristics such as ‘left-right’ position or socio-economic position alone. These groups make up almost a quarter of the electorate and the current major parties seem to be unable to make appeals to them that connect with their ‘natural’ economic leanings. It is among these cross-pressured clans that any ‘new’ political grouping could be created. While the political elite chatter endlessly about new ‘centrist’ parties, the voters for whom this pressure is felt most keenly are not in the ‘centre’ of politics but rather combine opposing poles of economic and social domains.


The detailed report on this research can be found here. You can find your values clan by answering the questions here.

About the Authors
Paula Surridge is Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol.




Michael Turner is Research Director & Head of Polling at BMG Research.



Robert Struthers is a Senior Research Executive at BMG Research.



Clive McDonnell is a Data Analyst at BMG Research.


‘Values clans’: how clusters of the electorate have shaped the political landscape

To explain the divisions which permeate UK politics, Paula Surridge, Michael Turner, Robert Struthers, and Clive McDonnell introduce an approach that takes the dimensionality of voters’ preferences more seriously.

Our political parties are in disarray as they struggle to make sense of divides among elected representatives, members, and voters which do not sit neatly along the existing party lines which have long been organised broadly around an economic left-right division. Some have gone so far as to declare the ‘death’ of the left-right divide but whilst it is the case that one could not helpfully predict the EU referendum vote, nor distinguish between Labour and UKIP (or indeed Green Party) voters at the 2015 general election based on left-right position, it is not the case that economic values no longer matter in our politics. But they are no longer the only thing that matters.

To make sense of the changes in party competition and the electorate more widely, it is useful to think of a set of ‘core values’ that structure our political beliefs. Following Rokeach (1973), we can think of these values as ‘core conceptions of the desirable within society’, or our deeply held views of the kind of society we want to be part of.

Drawing on responses from almost 30,000 members of the British electorate, to 27 items designed to tap into these ‘conceptions of the desirable’, BMG research have identified ten ‘values clans’. Some of these will seem familiar and occupy what might be thought of as ‘coherent’ positions within a broader value and party space. For example, the ‘Global Green Community’ (GGC) are broadly speaking the most ‘liberal-left’ of the clans, while the ‘Bastions of Tradition and the Individual’ (BTI) are representative of the ‘authoritarian-right’. But there are also clans here that represent more complex clusters of values, for example the ‘Modern Working Life’ group who share many ‘liberal’ values around the environment and gender equality, are left-leaning in their economic outlook but who also believe in individual responsibility.

The ten clans identified are shown below. Do not let the specifics of the names of any clans put you off; exactly what they are called really doesn’t matter: it is the clusters of values represented that are important.

Four of the clans combine clear cut values on both economic and social issues; though not always in ways found among party elites. As already described, the ‘Global Green Community’ and ‘Bastions of Tradition and the Individual’ represent the ‘liberal-left’ and ‘authoritarian-right’ respectively. Combining liberalism with more right-wing economics we have the ‘Orange bookers’ (OB) while the largest of the clans, the ‘Proud and Patriotic State’ (PPS), combine left-wing economics with socially conservative values. Together these four groups make up a little under half of the electorate; the PPS group being the largest and OB the smallest of these clans.

Figure 1: Distribution of Values & Identity Clans

A further two of the clans share key sets of values with one of these core clans and are ‘sympathetic’ on other dimensions. The ‘Common-Sense Solidarity’ (CSS) group are similar to GGC in their economic positions but a little less socially liberal, positioned somewhere between the GGC and the PPS overall. Similarly, the ‘Notting Hill Society’ (NHS) group have economic values in line with the BTI and OB groups while laying between them in terms of social values (being less socially liberal than OB but a little more so than the BTI group).

Adding these groups in we now account for roughly seven in ten members of the electorate. The ‘Apathy’ clan, account for a further one in ten of the electorate, are more disengaged from politics and less likely to express strong views on any of the value dimensions. The remaining groups are less clearly defined on any single set of values; in some respects they could be thought of as the ‘middle ground’ of British politics. However, by looking more closely at their political values we can better understand how these shaped their political behaviour and how this changed between 2015 and 2017.

The ‘Modern Working Life’ (MWL) group are economically left of centre in their political values; and share many aspects of social liberalism with the GGC group. They combine this with belief in hard work and a tougher stance on welfare and law and order. This group were the clan which was most likely to switch from Conservative to Labour in 2017; perhaps initially attracted by the modernising leadership of Cameron but finding the less liberal elements of May’s Conservative Party less attractive and the left-wing economics of Corbyn’s Labour more so.

The two remaining clans hold values very close to the centre both economically and socially, ‘The Measured Middle’ (TMM) are the least distinctive of the clans (aside from the ‘Apathy’ group), while the ‘Strength, Agreeable and Respect’ (SAR) clan are distinguished most clearly by the value placed on authority and discipline especially in defence and the criminal justice system.

Figure 2: 2017 General Election Values & Identity Clans (voters only).

The two most ‘coherent’ values clans voted overwhelmingly for the parties we would expect, the GGC for Labour and the BTI for the Conservatives. More than eight in ten voters in these clans supported what might be thought of as the ‘natural’ party. In keeping with their cross-cutting values, PPS and OB were both divided in their voting behaviour, though OB leaned overall a little towards Labour and PPS a little towards Conservative, suggesting an alignment weighted slightly towards their social values over their economic ones. In contrast, both CSS and NHS seem to have followed their economic instincts, the broadly left-wing CSS with almost seven in ten voting Labour and the broadly right-wing NHS with just over seven in ten voting Conservative. This returns us to the need to understand these value groupings as distinct from just positions on value scales alone. For some clans it appears that economic values are more important, while for others social values seems to have the strong effect.

The 2017 election was unusual and saw the squeezing of votes for parties other than Conservative and Labour in England (and to a lesser extent in Scotland where the SNP retained a larger share of its 2015 vote). If we compare 2015 voting across the clans, we can see even more clearly how votes for ‘minor’ parties were clustered within clans. Two clans stand out as having a concentration of votes for minor parties. Among the PPS group, one in five voted UKIP in 2015; while among the OB one in five voted Liberal Democrat. These groups were most ‘cross-pressured’ in their values and this is reflected in voting behaviour where parties making appeals on social issues can pick up large shares of the votes of these clans (something worth noting for anyone currently in the ‘new party’ market).

The values clans framework is powerful as it allows us to move beyond any single dimension of values to understand how clusters of the electorate who share value positions have responded to and shaped the political landscape. They are more powerful than thinking of any single socio-demographic divide alone, though they are strongly rooted in these divides of education, income, ethnicity and gender. They also allow us to understand how reaching out the values of one ‘clan’ may lead to losses of support elsewhere and the challenge of building election winning coalitions of clans for any political party.


The detailed report on this research can be found here. You can find your values clan by answering the questions here.

About the Authors

Paula Surridge is Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol.




Michael Turner is Research Director & Head of Polling at BMG Research.



Robert Struthers is a Senior Research Executive at BMG Research.



Clive McDonnell is a Data Analyst at BMG Research.





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