In the wake of the cash for access scandal there has been much comment about MPs remuneration and whether they should have incomes beyond their role as MPs.
The various comments by Sir Malcolm Rifkind – the free time he had on his hands; dismissing his salary of £67,000; his right to have a higher standard of living given his professional background etc. – put paid to his political career and we await to see what happens to Jack Straw.
The arguments for raising the pay of MPs are familiar, i.e. in order to get the brightest and best candidates you need to pay more, or you can’t expect talented people who would otherwise go to the City or the Bar to sacrifice themselves and their living standards and manage on an MPs salary.
But the logic of the market cannot be applied to the role of a Member of Parliament. This is a highly privileged position which is essentially about access and proximity to power.
This is what often gets missed when the role of an MP is compared to any other job in financial terms.
Much can be made about public service but the role is essentially about power and everyone who puts themselves forward to become an MP in the Palace of Westminster are well aware of this.
That’s why I don’t buy the ‘logic of the market’ arguments. If MPs choose to use their privileged position to line their own pockets or feel put out that they are not earning what other ‘high-fliers’ earn, then they are in the wrong place and should look for employment elsewhere.
Russell Brand caused a stir in the media and amongst the political classes in recent months as he questioned the value of voting in what he sees as a corrupt political system which fails to serve the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
Whilst I might have sympathy with some of the things Brand says, I disagree with him on the question of voting. The legitimacy of representative democracy, imperfect as it is, depends on as many people as possible exercising their duty at the ballot box. That’s why the recent voter registration drive to encourage people to register and vote in the forthcoming General Election was an important and much needed initiative and campaign.
But love him or loathe him, where Brand does have a point is in his insistence that politics is about more than what happens in the so-called ‘Westminster bubble’. The media’s obsession with Westminster-based politics feeds the idea that political parties and the act of voting represents the only real means of engaging politically.
Yes, voting and party politics matter very much but we need to remind ourselves that democracy, politics and the exercise of power is about more than parties and voting – it is about who we are, what we value and how we envision and work towards a good society. As Bernard Crick, the political philosopher once said: ‘Politics is an activity which must be carried on; one does not create it or decide to join in – one simply becomes more and more aware that one is involved in it as part of the human condition’.
As citizens it is up to us to ensure that the public sphere is not just dominated by elected politicians and other elites, whether they be from corporate life, celebrity life, think tanks or academia. The political agenda must be shaped by and reflect the concerns of so called ‘ordinary’ people and this calls for different forms of political agency, including protest, lobbying, and campaigning. A good example of politics in this broader sense is the work of Citizens UK who started the Living Wage campaign over ten years ago. Click here to see their 2015 Manifesto and how they are engaging thousands of people in the activity of politics.