According to an article in Mondays Guardian, our MPs are an industrious bunch. On top of their annual MPs salary (£65,738) a number of our elected representatives earn significant sums from second jobs (unless of course they see their role as an MP as their second job!). The top earner by some margin according to the article is ex Prime Minister Gordon Brown who earned £1.37m from giving speeches around the world. Brown said his extra income supported an office that he uses to “support my ongoing involvement in public life”, with £600,000 going to charity and none of the money to him personally. The 305 Conservative MPs have managed to clock up £4.3M between them (or an average of £14,100 per MP). The Labour MPs with the exception of Gordon Brown earned £1.03M or an average of £4,000 per MP.
For a man or woman who earns the National Minimum Wage for a 40 hour week (an annual figure of £13,125) this level of secondary income would seem very significant, and even for the MPs the Conservative average reflects more than 20% of their salary from Parliament. However averages, just like statistics can hide a multitude of stories. Analysis by the Guardian shows that in addition to Gordon Brown, 19 other MPs more than doubled their parliamentary salary!
The next highest earner is Stephen Phillips, Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who declared more than £740,000 in outside income, generated by working more than 1,700 hours as a barrister. Phillips said his outside work benefited his constituents by keeping a connection with the “real world”. Assuming that Stephen Phillips has not been misquoted, this comment simply shows how out of touch he really is, or perhaps it is a reflection of brazen disrespect for the people who will be reading the article. Few people have the opportunity to earn £435 per hour but it is certainly proof that work pays. My own limited professional experience of Barristers is that their contact with clients is very limited (few people can afford to pay over £400 for a cosy chat over lunch).
Another top earner is Jack Straw who earned £183,000. He is reported to have said that his work as an MP allowed ample time for outside work, which was mainly a mixture of speaking engagements and writing. “I devote around 60-70 hours to my duties as an MP, both national and constituency-related,” he said. “After allowing for sleep, and family/social activities, there are another 30-40 hours available for my other work.”
Clearly these examples are at the extreme end of the spectrum and there will be many MPs whose focus is solely limited to their work as a constituency MP and legislator. Currently MPs are free to earn what they like and do as they wish – provided that all income is declared in official registers, and no work relates to lobbying parliament.
Sadly because this article focuses on money and not wider values it does not provide any information about those MPs whose work is unpaid and extends to volunteering at a local foodbank or as a Special Constable. Equally it does not extend to any MPs who are working as bank staff in their local A&E or serving at a petrol station at weekends, even assuming this was the case. These activities would be a great way of getting in touch with the real world in a way that is denied to most Barristers.
Surely it is time that we had a debate about what we really do expect from our legislators and how they can really stay in touch with the world that their constituents inhabit. Having read about the large sums that some of them earn, perhaps we could hear about the voluntary hours that the Cabinet have put in, since the idea was first mooted by David Cameron and his Big Society confidante, Francis Maude. Perhaps next week the Guardian could do a piece that promotes the cause of those MPs who make a regular contribution to the voluntary sector agencies in their constituency? Assuming that there are some!