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You’ve got the one job….and you’re paid handsomely for it too

Posted on November 12, 2021

When it comes to work, I’ve always regarded myself as fortunate. Nearly half a century ago, and more by accident than design, I drifted into becoming a schoolteacher and miraculous fate decreed that I’d found something I enjoyed and was good at. I learnt very early on not to get embroiled in arguments with anyone who came out with the five-hour-day, three-month holiday jibes. Like most of my colleagues, I threw (and still gently lob) myself into an exhausting but rewarding job. What I could never have contemplated was trying to do another one at the same time.

I may have stuck at my one job, but there are plenty of others who still need to juggle two or three just to make ends meet. There are others still who do their one job but are so miserably remunerated that the state must supplement their wages – or subsidise their employers, depending on how you choose to view it. But I’m going to hazard a guess here:  I would be aghast if any of those people were on £81,932 a year plus expenses – the basic pay of a Member of Parliament.

Just for the moment, let’s try to glide over these expenses. They are there, according to Parliament’s website, for MPs to ‘cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, having somewhere to live in London or their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency.’ All of which is perfectly fair and entirely acceptable until, to use some very non-parliamentary language, people start taking the piss.

In 2009, the Daily Telegraph exposed a series of scandalous abuses of the expenses’ system which irreparably damaged public confidence in those MPs whose antics failed a simple test: if their constituents had behaved so dishonestly, they would have been fired from their (one) job. The job that probably doesn’t pay £81,932 a year. Plus expenses.

There is a sensible argument that having connection with real-life work is an asset for an MP, especially in the age of intern-bred apparatchiks spawned from the party machine. Maintaining professional or occupational connections makes perfect sense, but given that you’re already earning £81,932 a year, any such allegiance or commitment can only be peripheral. Can’t it? After all, helping to run the country at the highest level is enough of a job in itself. Isn’t it?

Well, apparently not. The headline-hitters of the past few days clearly have time and energy to burn, helping them to keep the wolf from the door. Owen Paterson with his £96k a year from Randox Health and a nifty £12k from a sausage maker, is a long way behind lawman Geoffrey Cox who has found the time to rattle up a helpful £375k a year in 16 years while performing his MP duties. How he must pity those 32 MPs who could only squeeze out an average of a meagre £44k a year from their extra-mural activities. Neither does it seem that party allegiance is the determining factor in such snout-troughery: there are shameless culprits in all parts of the panelled woodwork.

As with all stinking fish, it’s the head that sets the standard of putrefaction. Back in 2017 Boris Johnson complained that his £141,000 as a cabinet minister was insufficient, especially as he’d been made to forfeit his lucrative post as a fearless journalist, paying £275k a year – or roughly £2,200 per hour. He now finds the increase to £160k so demoralising that he has been reported as saying that he ‘just can’t afford to this job’. What? With your holidays paid for by your mates and your wallpaper paid for by the taxpayer?

Could we be a touch more charitable? Is £81,932, even with substantial expenses, a wage commensurate with such significant responsibility? It’s about on a par with a GP, around the same as a headteacher and less than the CEO of a local authority. There is a compelling argument for ensuring that this one wage should be enough to preclude the possibility of having to moonlight, in however upmarket a way. We certainly don’t want access to private income, dodgy or legit, to be the determinant when it comes to standing for office. It’s only fair that those assuming such a weighty burden should get the rate for the job. But there’s one important consideration, of course.

You have one job, so to earn this decent wage – do it properly. Be careful, well-prepared and thoroughly briefed in everything with which you’re involved. Embrace the responsibility that goes with your job and recognise that trust and respect need to be earned. Understand that problems and difficult episodes, some of which come from left-field and some of which are all-too-predictable, are precisely what you’re there to address. Don’t look for cheap excuses when things go wrong. Don’t instantly look to blame others. Put the hours in. Work hard. Don’t be dishonest.

You’ll have seen the flaw here. There is no doubt that there are MPs who are dedicated and scrupulous in their duties. There are some who are almost total strangers to the claim form – you can find them here. There are plenty who deem their one job to be enough and others who consider it barely enough to keep them from the workhouse – you can get a sense of who they are by looking here.

The genuinely honourable members understand that they represent others who, if you offered them a wage of £81,932 a year, would not chance losing such a salary by even thinking about behaving improperly or fiddling their expenses. You wouldn’t have to look hard to find them because they live in your street, drink in your local, shop in the precinct. One job paying a very good wage: who wouldn’t give it their all?

Don’t bother answering that.

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