Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Friday 12 July 2013

This is a Public Service Announcement

Yesterday, I asked you all how you felt about the blog going off piste from its original mission statement, and whether and how much you cared about me dumping my opinions all over the place.
How generous you all were!

I was rather moved that so many of you commented, and all positively!

I can also tell you that my readership does appear to be growing, gradually, and that more of you are turning up to read the blog week, on week and month on month, so, perhaps I’m doing something right, and perhaps I should keep on keeping on with it.

Chuck Wendig said this yesterday, and I thought it both apposite and, actually generous and liberating, too. He said:

All told, everybody's social media space is their own. It's the listener's job to tune out if they don't dig it.

So, I like my interface with my readers, and I like that they comment, and I’ll continue to invite them to do just that. I will also ask them, from time to time, to suggest topics for the blog, so, if anyone has anything, do chip in.

The day before yesterday, someone left a link about public misconceptions about statistics perpetrated by the media, in particular the redtop newspapers, which some of you might call the tabloids or even the gutter press. I might take a look at that at some point. It seems to me that this week’s most interesting news might be what we pay out MPs, though, and whether or not they should have a pay rise, and, if so, how much that pay rise should be.

I was frankly shocked. I was also appalled that I didn’t know what an MP earns, or, for that matter, our PM. When I read the figures, I gasped, forcing my tea down the wrong way, making me choke. I almost ended up having apoplexy. I checked three different websites to make sure the numbers were correct.

Then I went on another website and then another to find out what public service pays. I’m not given to swearing... Well... not much, and I knew the public sector was cheap, but Oh Good Grief!

Take a look at this picture.

Jeremy Paxman and David Cameron
Now... I know who I’d rather have running the country, but that’s not really the point, is it? The man on the left, Jeremy Paxman, is a journalist, a world class journalist, admittedly, but he spends a good deal of time sitting behind a desk interviewing politicians or asking students quizz questions. The man on the right of the picture, David Cameron, runs the county, alongside Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg; arguably, Mr Cameron is a world class arse, but he spends a good deal of time discussing matters of global significance with the most important men and women in the World; he sends servicemen and women to war for crying out loud! 

The man on the left in this picture is paid seven times more than the man on the right. That’s right, David Cameron would have to be in power for seven years to earn what Jeremy Paxman earns for a year of Newsnights and a season of University Challenge! In what universe is that OK? 

And, if you’re wondering why I chose those two gents, I’ll tell you why. It’s because Paxman is one of four sons of an industrialist; he read English at Cambridge, and we pay his salary since we still own the BBC. Cameron is the second son of a stockbroker; he read PPE at Oxford and we pay his salary as PM. They have enough in common to be comparable, but not so much as to be freakish. You wouldn’t want to look at a snap of DC and Bo-Jo, now would you? (BTW It might be worth noting, at this point, I think, that Boris is paid roughly three times the salary for dashing about the City on a bike as Cameron is for attempting to run the country). 

Public service is a wonderful thing, and, perhaps, we should all be required to do a little bit of it at some point in our lives. Maybe we should all do a stint as a nursing auxiliary or a school governor, or a lollipop person. I don’t know. I do know, having looked at the numbers, that those with any kind of vocation, with any kind of calling, are taken advantage of. It’s true in the church, and it’s true in the state.

We all talk about nurses and firemen and police officers and teachers. We all talk about how poorly paid and overworked they are, and I couldn’t agree more. My older daughter is about to take her PGCE. She has a first from Oxford with a double distinction, so she’s better placed than almost any graduate anywhere to walk into a well-paid job. Her starting salary as a teacher, at the age of twenty-four will be less than twenty-two thousand pounds per year. A graduate nurse starts at about the same salary, as does a firefighter, a police constable starts in the range nineteen to twenty-two thousand, and it’s a little less for a prison officer. For people who put themselves at the sharp end in our society, it doesn’t sound like much, does it?

When my daughter is threatened, or worse by a distressed fourteen year old kid, or when she’s assaulted by an angry, frustrated parent, her salary certainly won’t compensate her. When she has to deal, every day, with the endless misery of underfunding and lack of resources, her salary won’t compensate her. Teachers and nurses and firefighters and police officers don’t work for the money, they work for the satisfaction of getting through a day and making some small difference... In some cases, they work for those days when they literally change a life or even save one.

Our MPs are paid sixty-six thousand pounds per annum. They enter public service to make a difference. They do it because, rightly or wrongly, they believe they are doing right. They believe they are doing better than the other guy. 

We see the adversarial nature of politics, and we see the arrogance of politicians, because they’re the guys who stand up and say what they believe. Trust me, that’s not nearly as easy to do as it looks. They’re not right all the time, but in adversarial politics it’s not possible to be right. Do you know what? When it’s about opinions in a modern, liberal, first world, I’m not sure there’s any such thing as right. It isn’t about black and white the way it used to be. Some ideas seem more solid than others, we agree with one plan more than another, one way of thinking seems a little fairer or a little more humble, or wiser, perhaps. One way of looking at something seems a little more selfish... It’s all degrees, though.

I’m not a fan of Cameron’s politics, or Clegg’s, but now there’s a schism between Miliband and the unions, and we’re hearing the final death knell of the Labour party, such as it is.

It doesn’t matter; the point is this: They’re still getting up every morning, and going into their offices, and trying to sort out the country and the World. They’re dealing every day with wars and famines; with global economics, which right now means global recessions; and with acts of God. They’re being put on the spot twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week by the news media around the World. What’s more they can rely on the loyalty and respect of no one.

All that, and whatever we think of them as people, even when we don’t know them at all; and whatever we think of them as thinkers, and we don’t listen to them at all; and whatever we think of them, as politicians and World leaders, and we voted for them through a democratic process that has been growing and adapting for centuries... Whatever we think, when all is said and done, and they answer to us, as they must, and they go back to the hustings, and we do it all again... When all is said and done, we pay our party leaders: our PM, our Deputy PM and our Leader of the Opposition the same way we pay our Chief Constables and our CEOs and significantly less than we pay educators at the top of the tree, the vice chancellors of our finest universities, for example. 

We pay MPs the same way we pay head teachers and police superintendents and GPs. The very nature of their job means they cannot please all of the people all of the time, and while doing it they are almost required to look pleased with themselves. In the end, though, politicians are at the sharp end, too. The best of them, like the best of any of our public servants are worth their weight in gold.

In my opinion they should not award themselves a better pay rise than they award any other public servant. But, for goodness sake, let’s pay every public servant what he or she is worth, and let’s do it across the board. Let’s value everyone in public service.


  1. MP's salaries are regulated by an independent body so they cannot currently award themselves a pay rise at all; it was one of the changes after the expenses scandal.

    I agree any pay rise they receive should be commensurate with other public service jobs.

  2. what worries me is that the value of a public servant is often measured with the view of how much could be saved by making them unemployed.

  3. My original reply turned into a rant which I've decided not to post, replaced instead with this:

    I know people who work in education and I've met many nurses over the last decade through my many visits and stays in hospital. They do difficult jobs on the front line of their services, some of them having specialist rolls that span multiple job titles, they do long hours and often for no extra pay. The do this because the work needs doing, because its for people who are in dire need of help and wont find that help anywhere else. These people care about those people they help and go above and beyond to make sure they are cared for.

    The disparity in the public sector is between 'front line services' and 'management', and for many years the front line got the stick (pay cuts and freezes, redundancies and even more work) whilst management got the carrot (wage increases, protection from downsizing and more benefits). It would be easy to say that MP's have allowed this to happen, but in truth many are never in a job long enough to notice the problem, often being moved around during a 'reshuffle' to notice the wider problems in their branches.

    I'm told that its slowly changing, with management now taking a hit after a local external audit of our council shamed much of our local management, but it may be too little, too late for many. The damage had been done and the front lines moral is around that of a leper colonies, it may never recover without serious or immediate change either.