Joseph Potts calls on MPs to rise above the petty circus of self-flagellation
While flicking through the papers the other day I came across a peculiar picture of the Camerons on one of the front pages. David and Samantha were sitting in the departure lounge of Stanstead Airport, waiting to board a Ryanair flight to Granada to celebrate Samantha’s 40th Birthday (considering her last holiday was interrupted by giving birth, I’d say she’s earned it).
Perhaps this isn’t all that odd; merely one of those ‘they’re just like us’ features, like the photographs of Prince William ordering fish and chips in Anglesey or Wayne Rooney doing whatever it is Wayne Rooney does. Yet I find it hard to believe many other heads of government would subject themselves to the flagellation of a Ryanair flight when their official transport or personal wealth could get them to their holiday destination far more comfortably, and without anyone trying to sell them scratch cards. David Cameron is a millionaire, so is this a modern-day equivalent of the Queen Mother proclaiming proudly on the bombing of Buckingham Palace in the Blitz that she could now ‘stare East London in the face’ by sharing in our misery?
More likely he just found a cheap deal (they returned with Easyjet after all). Yet this does open up the issue of our perception of politicians and the peculiar martyrdom they now have to subject themselves to avoid our accusations of self-interest. MPs, for instance, have lost their right to first class rail travel between their constituencies and London. Having travelled the London-Edinburgh route more often than I care to remember, I can state with confidence that putting MPs on an overcrowded train in First Class with free wi-fi, coffee and the chance to actually open a laptop without sacrificing your ability to breath is money well spent.
Of course we have also witnessed reports of the trial of former Environment Minister Eliot Morley for claiming £32,000 fraudulently; add to that the scandal over internships and Nick Clegg’s push for greater ‘accessibility’, and accusations of corruption are flinging happily across the press. After David Chaytor MP was gaoled for similar offences I couldn’t deny there are those who abuse their positions, but I don’t believe politics is governed by self interest. In Kenya MP’s take home £8,920 a month when the national minimum wage is £25 to £50. By contrast our MP’s earn £5,478 a month (£65,738 a year), more than French National Representatives (£4,260 a month) but less than their equivalents in most national parliaments including Japan, the US and the European Parliament.
In the 24-hour news world any politician’s every move is subjected to continuous media scrutiny, as the News of the World phone hacking scandal aptly demonstrates. Watching Question Time, each audience attack on our ‘selfish’ and ‘greedy’ politicians prompts a loud hoot of self-satisfied cheering and applause from the audience. As a result of this popular indignation parliament is now subject to an expenses system widely derided as ridiculous.
MPs spend more time watching their backs, as journalists disguised as their own constituents try to prompt them into saying something a bit controversial, than they do actually governing the country. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but in the most scrutinised job in the country, I say let them get on with it. If we wish to gain a more representative Parliament, with people from poorer backgrounds who can’t afford the cost of exclusive (and sometimes auctioned) internships becoming MPs, then pay them more, not less. Failing which our political elite will remain closed off to all but millionaires, even if they do choose to fly Ryanair.