The last century has seen a well-intentioned, but largely self-defeating, attempt to improve the honesty, responsiveness, and accountability of our political system by spending more on it. Instead, we have seen the rise of an increasingly well insulated professional political class, the hollowing out of voluntary parties, and the creation of an institutional ratchet which is dragging political thought to the statist establishment left.
1911 saw the first Parliamentary pay structure introduced in an attempt to curb what were perceived to be unaccountable outside influences on MPs’ political priorities and decision-making. It was also an attempt to widen access to political careers. The second of these reasons, however, does not really stand up as a justification. This reform happened at a time when such access was already widening considerably, largely as a result of the “outside influences” – or independent interests, such as trade unions, cooperative societies and philanthropists. The widening access we have seen over the past century would be likely to have occurred anyway. So, we are left with a system which depends for its legitimacy on the somewhat contentious proposition that the last century has seen a profound and remarkable rise in the honesty and fairmindedness of our Parliament.
The payroll for our MPs, in turn, led to allowances for Peers, MPs’ expenses, and the proliferation of MPs’ staff, and most perniciously of all, Short Money.
Clearly Parliamentarians and their staff must be paid but each extension of the taxpayer’s largesse has helped to establish a career path for the so-called “career politicians” of tabloid ire and a largely unaccountable ecosystem of policy advisors, researchers and party staff insulated from outside influences, contributing to the increasing disconnect between political decision-makers and the wider community. As with any institution, these party machines have developed their own independent interests and agendas.