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Marina Kim: If MPs are to be paid more, voters need a right of recall

Screen shot 2013-05-19 at 19.55.35Marina Kim is a journalist working in London. Her website is Follow Marina on Twitter.

The market is very fair. If you are a bad accountant – you get fired. If you are a bad manager – you get fired. If you are a bad photographer – nobody buys your pictures, and you will be forced to do something else. If you are a bad cleaner – you are replaced with a better one who is not going to brush the dust under the carpet.

Please forgive my naïve question but… how come that if you are a bad politician – you are allowed to keep your job and nobody can do anything about it until the next election? You are here to clean up the mess on a national level - and yet brushing the dust under the carpet is acceptable? Surely, with a job that important the demand to perform must be equally high?

It gets even more hilarious. According to IPSA, the body responsible for MPs’ salaries and pensions, MPs deserve a salary increase for all their unaccountable efforts.  Something between £10,000 and £20,000. Let’s rock-and-roll! You worked so hard – oh well, maybe you didn’t but the other guy over there did – and yet you will all receive the same salary increase. No matter that you might have worked half the amount that he or she did.

IPSA is due to recommend a substantial increase to the current £65,738 annual pay packet of MPs in a report next month. There are MPs who are not paid enough and genuinely deserve a higher salary. It’s fair if we want to reward the best people. But do they all perform equally well? Who gets to decide that they do, and who controls it?  Such a blanket pay increase for jobs at this level would be inconceivable in the private sector, particularly without a performance related component.

The necessity to be accountable for your job is not just about the salary. If an MP wants to go away on a long holiday as soon as they are elected, nothing can stop them. If they don’t want to turn up to vote in Parliament – they can. By the way, are you aware that Gordon Brown hasn’t retired from politics yet? Yes, he is still an MP but his attendance record is hardly exemplary. Even if an MP turns up but is useless at his or her job throughout their term nobody can do anything about it for five years. That’s a pretty fabulous job contract! What would Alan Sugar say?

Politicians seem to think that having media to put pressure on them is enough of a control mechanism (although now they feel a bit uncomfortable with that too and want a quieter life – courtesy of Mr.Leveson). What about people who hired them for the job? Yes, if you think about it, newspapers certainly played a big part in propelling certain politicians up and drowning others. However, it was the population – Mr and Mrs Next Door, Mr Neighbour, Miss Hope and Miss Change, and Mrs Not Indifferent – who actually came to vote in the ballot for this man or this woman getting a job. MPs are first and foremost accountable to their constituents.

If constituents do not see their MP doing a good job, against reasonable performance expectations, they should be allowed to replace them with someone else from the same party. These recall-triggered elections should probably be at the expense of the party in question. That will teach them to pick better and more hardworking candidates, those who proved themselves, from the start.

If MPs’ salaries are due to go up significantly, the matter of recall of those who do not deserve such salaries should become a matter of a fierce public debate. In any sane company – and surely in any sane country – big salaries should come with big performance. Moreover, Big Society is never going to be possible without power to the people, and a proper recall mechanism is an essential part of that.

But, contrary to logic and common sense, a proper recall mechanism – a Tory manifesto promise – three years on is still in muddy water, with no clear signs when it is going to be introduced. And please don’t give us fakes as is being proposed…a fake recall gives power to MPs to have a final say in whether a recall petition is triggered.  I am sure you know by now that fakes don’t last!


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