MP’s Pay: a sensitive subject

By Dr Will Jennings

In a survey of MP’s released today, it is revealed that a majority of MP’s (some 69%) thought they were underpaid, with the average suggested amount £86,251. Notably there were clear party differences in the numbers. Conservatives thought, on average, their salary should be £96,741, while their coalition partners the Lib Dems put this at £78,361, and Labour just below this on £77,322.

This is in complete contrast to what the British public think, reflecting the underlying schism that remains at the heart of British politics and distrust in political institutions. In another YouGov survey in August last year, 60% of people said MPs are paid too much and just 5%, that is one in twenty, thought they were paid too little. At a time of cuts to welfare and public services, and with the average MP’s household wage sitting above about 96% of the population, now is probably not the time for MP’s to be asking for a pay rise – whether or not there is a case that British MP’s earn comparatively less than their counterparts in other countries.

Aside from this, the survey itself raises some interesting questions about how survey respondents who are public figures — such as MP’s — might respond to questions in the knowledge that their collective responses could potentially affect them as a group. In this case, while MP’s might have a private preference (as most of us indeed would) for a higher income, one might expect that certain democratic pressures (what Hood and Lodge call ‘Tocquevillian pressures’) would lead them to reduce their claims in the face of the potential media and public outcry. On the one hand, the anonymity of the survey offers respondents a venue to express their personal preference without fear of repercussions, but any MP in this situation must be aware that the aggregate figures could have political consequences for MP’s more widely. The question one must ask, then, is could this number have been even higher?

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