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We’re all in this together. By ‘this’ I am of course referring to austerity, that dastardly thing being rolled out by Cameron’s government in the form of a ‘package’, which makes it sound as if we’re getting a nice, surprise delivery through the post. I suspect what many of the poorest in society are experiencing is something more akin to a flaming pile of excrement being left on one’s doorstep.
[quote]It has been roundly criticised by MPs, with David Cameron labelling the future pay rise as “inappropriate”.[/quote]
With this in mind, you might be angered to hear that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has proposed an eleven percent pay rise for MPs, to come into effect in 2015. Your anger would be justified; never mind Sir Ian Kennedy defending the decision by arguing that once other changes have come into effect (reducing pensions, cutting back on expenses) it won’t cost the taxpayer “a penny more” – it’s largely about the principle. Moreover, this response to criticism appears to ignore the fact that most budgets – apart from those involved in ‘frontline services’ – are being cut. I highly doubt there is a collective feeling that MPs salaries are vitally important. It has been roundly criticised by MPs, with David Cameron labelling the future pay rise as “inappropriate”.
Let’s contrast this with the existence of the world’s poorest president, Jose Mujica of Uruguay, who rejected a state palace in favour of a farmhouse, donates the vast bulk of his salary to social projects and drives a Volkswagen Beetle. Though he decries this label, he is an extremely poignant example of someone who leads by example. He has recently been widely praised for legalising marijuana, the production, distribution and sale of which will be regulated by the state. Mujica, in an interview with the Guardian’s Jonathan Watts, shies away from describing this measure as liberalising an already substantially leftwing country, instead choosing to use the word ‘logical’. Is it about time our own politicians took a leaf out of Mujica’s book?
It would be a positive step indeed if the MPs opposed to the rise either refused to accept it or donated that percentage of their salary to charity, but would these gestures be enough to break the antipathy of a public who are becoming increasingly disillusioned with modern politicians? What the rise also draws attention to is the professionalisation of politics. Whereas in the past many politicians would have had previous experience of working in another job, more and more young MPs have dived headfirst into politics. According to an article in The Mail Online, one in seven MPs have never had a ‘real’ job, with many more only briefly serving as lobbyists or public relations advisers. Theresa May, in a recent interview with BBC Radio 4, described her shock at hearing that many students wanted to get into politics without first gaining any experience in the real world. In an age in which the extent of MPs knowledge of social reality is being questioned, the idea of a pay rise is laughable. Have we forgotten that David Cameron’s initial cabinet included 23 millionaires?
One might contend that at least these figures show that the majority of MPs have had some experience of the working world before going into politics. However, a profile of the 2010 parliament by The Smith Institute found that the occupational background of MPs continues to be “ever more biased toward business and the ‘metropolitan professions.’” At the beginning of Thatcher’s era there were 98 working class MPs; that number has now declined to 25, according to the Financial Times.
What the rightful indignation of both the public and politicians against this pay rise disguises is the dangerous marginalisation of politics as a career. This pay rise might be argued by some to be an encouragement to young people – see how much money you could earn if you entered into politics! However, it is in fact a frightening example of the increasing soullessness of the political sphere. Far from positing that a career as an MP may be motivated by the desire for positive social change, this argument betrays the fact that what Ipsa thinks drives society is the thirst for money. If this trend continues, it will no longer be accurate to designate a ‘political elite’. This pre-supposes that there is a common element to the political; in the future the political will be the elite, which spells disaster for those on the lower rungs of the social ladder. For this to be reversed there must be a rejection of the ideological implication of the professionalisation of politics. We can all take some inspiration from Jose Mujica, not just as a personal model, but also in terms of his social realism, his rejection of the deification of politicians, and the social care he expounds.