Peter Bingle argues the meagre rations handed out to politicians mean the best and the brightest no longer aspire to become MPs because they can’t afford to do so.

It surely can’t be right that a senior consultant at a lobbying company earns more than a Member of Parliament. Little wonder that morale in the Mother of Parliaments is at its lowest for more than a generation.

WS Gilbert once wrote that “When everybody is somebody, then nobody’s anybody” and modern British politics proves his words to be very wise. Politics has become dull and most MPs are blessed with near total anonymity.

There are of course many dedicated and good men and women in the current House of Commons but nobody can seriously claim that the overall calibre is as high as during the Thatcher years. It is not just a bad attack of nostalgia but a statement of fact. At every level of British politics (with the possible exception of local government) the calibre of politician is lower now than was once the case.

There is a simple reason. The best and brightest no longer aspire to become MPs because they cannot afford to do so. One of the worst aspects of the Cameron and Osborne years was two rich boys (who didn’t need to work) forcing parliamentary colleagues who were not wealthy to wear financial hair shirts as part of the Tory Party’s rebranding.

I have never had a problem with MPs having outside interests. Most MPs are good and decent people and understand the meaning of conflict of interest. Outside interests enable MPs to have a wider and deeper meaning of the real world. They can become specialists or being blunt simply earn sufficient money to stay in politics. Do we really want a House of Commons compromised of fulltime professional politicians? No we don’t…

So what is the solution? If we accept that the status quo isn’t working and it isn’t then there are two options. The first is to raise the basic pay to around £100k and encourage MPs to take on outside interests. The second is to pay them around £200k and ban outside interests. I have to admit that I prefer the first option …

The public affairs world (or at least the upper echelons) is stuffed full of people who would probably have pursued a political career if they could have afforded to do so. Put to one side the issue of whether senior public affairs advisers have more influence that most MPs, it is an indisputable fact of life that the salaries paid to MPs have been and continue to be a total disincentive to even consider trying to enter the House of Commons.

Any attempt to increase the financial package for MPs will of course be met with howls of rage by the media, even though the articles denouncing MPs will be written by journalists who earn far more than they do. Opinion polls will also show massive opposition to increasing the pay of a group of public servants whose public standing has never been lower. Yet the argument to be radical is compelling and essential if the overall quality of the Body Politic is going to improve and it needs to improve.

In the House of Commons elected in 1979 there were so many great characters who were independently minded and ferocious debates. Politics was interesting not just because of the personality of Margaret Thatcher and her policy agenda. It was also because of the calibre not just of her senior colleagues but also of her senior advisers. In those days the most popular profession of Tory MPs was the law and it was normal to spend time most days both in court as well as in the House of Commons. Did that cause a problem for the democratic process? Of course not …

The House of Commons needs a champion to make the case for paying MPs a decent salary in order that the brightest brains in every generation enter politics and play their role in the Body Politic. It is hard to think who that person should be. It would certainly be a thankless task but this is a cause worth fighting for. MPs need a modern day Ivanhoe!

Politics is too serious a business to accept second best when there is a better option on the table. When the public moan about the quality of their politicians they should be asked what needs to happen to improve the situation. Politics needs to inspire people. It has the potential to change their lives for the better. A vibrant House of Commons full of the brightest and the best is a price worth paying for. Does the PM have the courage to do what is both right and necessary?

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