Being one of our political masters is nice work if you can get elected

As MPs prepare for another holiday, it's about time they started thinking more about how their breaks look to voters

 

Share

Wouldn’t it be lovely to be in a job where, as the sun comes out and the garden starts to bloom, you can give yourself an extra week’s paid holiday? Especially when you are already putting in fewer weeks than primary school pupils – and yet spend much of your time talking about hard-working families, bickering over benefit scroungers and bemoaning the nation’s woeful productivity.

This is the fortunate position for our elected representatives in Parliament, who have just begun a 19-day holiday.

Mind you, the poor dears must have been exhausted – it was more than a fortnight since their 18-day Easter break. And they have to prepare for a seven-week stint before their six weeks of summer holiday, which is followed by another month’s break for party conferences.

Nice work if you can get elected for it. MPs like to moan that they are overworked, underpaid and undervalued, yet the truth is more complex.

For all their complaints, they are among the top three per cent of earners in the country, even without those controversial expenses and gold-plated pensions.

Some are extremely smart, but others would struggle to earn similar packages in the private sector. For those that can put up with public opprobrium, it can be a pretty cushy job, especially if sitting on a comfortable majority.

One MP revealed that despite substantial constituency workloads, the overall burden was much less than admitted, even with long hours on the days Parliament was sitting.

“There’s an enormous amount of spare time if you are reasonably efficient. There might be a vote at 7pm and another at 10pm, but so long as you are sitting around nearby, you have lots of time to do other things.”

How else could governing ministers carry out parliamentary duties while backbenchers put in those hours as barristers, company directors and doctors? Others churn out books or try to build television careers; Nadine Dorries even flew to the Australian jungle for a reality show, insisting it would not impede her political work.

Incredibly, it is said Andrew Lansley, leader of the House of Commons, urged MPs recently to focus on voters, not second jobs.

You have to wonder at the wisdom of taking more time off – not least when there is such an anti-politics mood afoot and misanthropic rabble like Ukip might top forthcoming European polls.

This comes as the Coalition appears to have run out of steam; after the intense legislative onslaught of its first three years, it lacks fresh laws to pass and seems to be dissolving in front of our eyes. So the “Zombie Parliament” shut up shop for an extra week; perhaps fixed-terms were not such a good idea.

Last year, the House of Commons sat for 145 days – which meant most school pupils sat at their desks eight weeks longer than our political masters parked on their Westminster benches.

In previous years, the chamber has been in action almost 100 days more. And even when Parliament is in action, MPs can slip away early. One told me colleagues often said “have a good weekend” as they left on Wednesday night.

Most insist they are rarely off duty even in recess, wading through constituency work and attending local events. When Radio 4 presenter Justin Webb told listeners that the House of Commons was on holiday a couple of years ago, he was besieged with angry tweets from MPs saying they were holding surgeries, visiting schools and meeting lobby groups.

“My ‘holiday’ 2day consists of going through about 100 constituents’ letters & planning local jobs fair,” was a typical response, from Tamworth’s Christopher Pincher.

But as another of the 2010 intake said, however hard they work, it is wrong that Parliament fails to sit for so much of the year – even if only on grounds of shoring up credibility.

This year, it is likely to be in business for about 142 days, which means MPs can spend an astonishing 223 days away from Westminster. Clearly they did not listen to Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, when she warned this was causing a growing “democratic vacuum” by giving an impression they were lazy, rarely working and poor value for money.

No one wants politicians passing laws just for the sake of appearances; they do plenty of damage like that already.

But there is more they could do to scrutinise Whitehall waste, improve existing legislation, examine European edicts and encourage real political debate; most MPs, after all, feel restrained by party politics.

Why, for example, could select committees not carry out investigations more often when Parliament is not sitting? I am sure the public could live with MPs going on fewer foreign junkets, after all – and many of them would like the extra responsibility.

Perhaps our Westminster politicians should ponder these points as they sit on their sun loungers this week, wondering why they are so unpopular while absurd fringe parties are on the rise.

Twitter: @ianbirrell

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teaching positionRands...

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone