Monday, December 24, 2007

Fisking Tim Worstall

Tim Worstall writes :

The value of any job in a market economy is set by supply and demand. We have a (relatively) fixed demand for MPs. Some 630 or so (roughly, isn’t it?).

According to Wikipedia, it's actually 646. For someone who spends a lot of time complaining (correctly) about the sloppy figures of Polly Toynbee, it's a pity Tim didn't spend thirty seconds looking the number up on Google.
At the last general election some 3,000 people stood for one of those seats. Some will say that some were markedly unqualified (from Monster Raving Loonies to Trots of various types) but this isn’t, in a democracy, a valid position to hold. Any and every one of us is qualified to be an MP: that’s what rule by the people means.
This is incorrect - yes anyone is eligible to apply to be an MP - that doesn't mean you're qualified to be an MP. To qualify, you have to convince the largest number of people on the "interview" panel to vote for you. Simply being qualified enough to apply for the job does not mean you're suitable.

So as we have 3,000 qualified applicants for some 600 jobs, clearly, we are overpaying those who do it. MPs pay should therefore be cut, radically.

Again, this is faulty logic - just because you get lots of applicants, doesn't mean you're over paying them. Looking at my own field, that of Information Technology, the higher paid positions are naturally going to have more applicants. What this means for the employers that pay above the market rate salaries is they get more chance to cherry pick the best people in the field, not that they are somehow overpaying them. I like the thought that we get a higher class of applicant to be an MP by paying more. I'm still not sure how that explains John Prescott though.

In fact, back in the day when being an MP attracted no salary at all (only Ministers were paid) we had no shortage of MPs. Thus we would have no shortage now if MPs were unpaid now (that is arguable, but do you think there would be a shortage if this were the case?).

Possibly not - but as has been pointed out on numerous occassions, the other side of that is that only the rich could then afford to become MPs. By running this policy, you'd effectively ensure that "every one of us is" no longer "qualified to be an MP". So you'd end up moving away from the main starting point of this discussion. Either that or MPs would have to take "consultancy fees" from vested interests, which I'm not convinced would be an improvement on the current situation.

Cut MPs pay and cut it now!

If the problem is that MPs are incompetent, then that is a decision for their constituents to deal with. The fact that you may not like someone's choice of MP is not a reason to reduce that MPs wages (again, a certain former deputy Prime Minister comes to mind). It's called democracy.

3 comments:

Phil A said...

Re: “yes anyone is eligible to apply to be an MP - that doesn't mean you're qualified to be an MP. To qualify, you have to convince the largest number of people on the "interview" panel to vote for you. Simply being qualified enough to apply for the job does not mean you're suitable.

Surely this is not actually the case at all?

If I have sufficient money (£500?) to cover the deposit, is it not the case that I could just put myself forward as an independant? Provided I were proposed and seconded by two registered electors resident in the constituancy, plus eight others as assentors.

The only conditions are that:
I consent to it, that I be a British or Irish citizen, or a citizen of aCommonwealth country and am 21 or over.

The only other conditions being that I am not:
An idiot - on the face of it disqualifying many incumbents ;-)
A Peer
An undischarged bancrupt
Civil servant, Police officer, etc, etc.
A prisoner
A person actually found gulty (effectively impossible, based on recent events) of electorial ‘corrupt or illegal practices’
A Disqualified Clergy – do they stil have that?

Finally I would need to convince more people to vote for me that any of the other candidates.

Whilst all these may be quaklifications within a very broad sense of the word they are hardly ‘qualifications’ within the context of the quote.

So he is effectively correct in his assertion when he says; “Any and every one of us is qualified to be an MP”

Thomas B said...


If I have sufficient money (£500?) to cover the deposit, is it not the case that I could just put myself forward as an independant? Provided I were proposed and seconded by two registered electors resident in the constituancy, plus eight others as assentors.


That's precisely my point - just because you make it in front of the selection panel, does not mean we think you're suitable material to represent us (us = your constituents) in parliament.

I'm not disputing that "everyone of us is qualified" - I'm suggesting that being "qualified" is not sufficent to be an MP, and it is flawed to suggest that just because there are lots of applicants the figures should go down - as voters, we (should) expect a certain quality from the candidate we elect.

Phil A said...

Thomas, I was not arguing re the merits of what MPs are paid, though my own opinion is that in worryingly significant numbers they are not up to the mark of what I expect an MP to be - in so many ways as to be heartbreaking to enumerate.

What I was specifically addressing was your contention/comment that it “doesn't mean you're qualified to be an MP” – and I concede we may be arguing definitions to some extent re the word qualification.

My point is that one is in fact qualified.

The selection process is a bolt on. It allows a party to pick the person (largely) who has the best chance of winning the seat.

But it is not a requirement to run - just to run for any party that has such a process.

One soly qualifies on the basis of what I listed: 21 or over, etc., etc..

If I cough up my 500 quid and can find 10 local voters, say neighbours, who will support me and manage to fill out the forms then that is it. I can run as an independent. No panel. Just the election.