Ministers’ pay

Mr Cameron, the leader of the opposition, has reportedly decided to cut ministers’ pay if his party were to form the next government. Apparently he is considering a reduction in the ministerial entitlement of up to 25%. Ministerial entitlements are top-up salaries for ministers in the government, and some opposition figures. This move by Mr Cameron is pretty extraordinary, and it raises an interesting point or two.

It is perfectly understandable that the Tory leader wants to appear tough on MPs, following the expenses scandals, and a more recent gaffe by Mr ‘living-on-rations’ Duncan. Given MPs have been vilified by the press and the public, and their esteem has sunken so low, it seems a sensible idea. But is it?

This idea will probably go down well with some sections of the public, but not as much as Mr Cameron may think. Expenses scandals centred on the dubious uses of the expenses system, and the basic pay of MPs (£64,766) is not outrageously high compared to other sectors. Even ministers are not paid astronomical amounts. The prime minister’s salary is £197,689, and a cabinet minister makes £144,520 a year, composed of £64,766 salary as an MP and varying amounts of ministerial entitlements.

MPs make the laws of the realm and ministers govern the country, therefore their jobs are very important, and they ought to be recompensed adequately. If talent comes at a price (as has been argued by the banking sector which persists in paying out bonuses), then there may be a case for paying more rather than less money to the ministers. It can be argued (quite persuasively) that there is be no correlation between salary and talent (see banks). But money is one of the easiest, perhaps vulgar, ways to assess the worth of a person’s job, as well as of the person. Less pay means less importance one attaches to the post. Naturally political offices come with other non-monetary value such as power and prestige, but money should also be seen as part of the package.

In my view, there ought to be more transparency in MPs’ expenses and a reduction in the total amount they can claim in expenses, as well as what kind of things they can claim on them. However their basic parliamentary pay should go up somewhere closer to or even beyond six figures. As legislating for and governing a country are demanding jobs, I think ministers ought to be paid reasonably well: who in big companies would do the top job for under £200,000 pre-tax? I doubt that many would.

So while it’s not exactly destitution, but Mr Duncan may have been right to raise the issue of renumeration. Politics needs and is sustained by idealism, but idealism would not be the sole reason for going into politics. Money, like power, authority and prestige, does count, and forms one of the factors when someone makes a career move or change. The question is whether politicians can convince the electorate that politics and government matter hugely, and therefore the members require proper renumeration.