Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Cost of being an MP

Tim at Conservative Home has run an excellent article on the financial costs of being a Conservative Parliamentary candidate - find it here.

I'm sure it doesn't just apply to the Conservative Party - candidates in the other main parties presumably have similar horror stories. But it does help to explain why there is a plethora of lawyers, bankers and businessmen/women in Parliament and fewer teachers, nurses and office workers.

Tim estimates that the cost of being elected, including lost earnings, travel and attending events is approximately £41,000. That's significantly more than my annual salary and I regard myself as being extremely lucky and in a well-paid job.

Some people have argued, with some justification, that this is a small price to pay for the job. They'll earn approximately £60,000 per year, be able to play about with the expenses system, employ their spouse as their secretary and have fabulously long holidays during the recess. All true - if not true for all MPs. But is it that simple - speculate to accumulate?

Of course not - the high cost of being a candidate, and it is a high cost, is acceptable to the well paid lawyers and self-made millionaires and by applying to be a candidate they are accepting the costs they will incur, even though they are unreasonable. But would a (for example) primary school teacher with two young children be willing or able to take that step towards becoming an MP. Of course not, nor would I. Despite being on a good salary, with a husband on a good salary, we can't afford to even look at buying a house in the South of England. To lose £10,000 a year (assuming early selection) would just be impossible.

So what's the answer? I don't know. Tim has made some suggestions which bear careful consideration. I particularly like the one about a "candidate protector" who can advise the constituency association and the candidate on what events are must-attend and which ones, despite the pleas of the Chairman, really aren't. If candidates spent less time and money at every cheese & wine and strawberry tea and more out meeting the electorate it would help both financially and politically. Of course the candidate must attend some social events, (s)he is the cheerleader-in-chief of the Association but not every event. And especially not seeing the same 30 people over and over and over again, just changing whose house this month's event is in.

Central Office also has a role to play - while you do want to see members of the candidate's list working at by-elections, it isn't reasonable to demand that they spend a certain number of hours working at them. It is reasonable to ask all the candidates in the south east to spend x hours at a London by-election, it isn't reasonable to ask candidates from the north west to spend the same time at it. Similarly there has to be a radical rethink of the training weekends that they offer. Candidates will spend hundreds of pounds, leaving their constituency behind on ideal campaigning days (Saturdays) to sit in a hotel somewhere in the country to be told daft things that may have no relevance to the campaign they are running locally.

As I say, I don't know what the answer is. But when people ask why Parliament doesn't look more like the country it's because the majority of the country couldn't afford to get there.

1 comment:

Ellee Seymour said...

I certainly couldn't afford to stand, and if you put your heart and soul into running a successful grassroots campaign, the last thing you want to worry about is having to raise funds too.

I think there should be a centrally sourced pot which contributes a certain amount towards each constituency to help alleviate this stress.

Thanks for the mention on your blogroll, I will now reciprocate.