To be honest, I’ve had this little observation in my mind for years, but I never thought it was interesting enough to blog about. Then I mentioned it to someone the other day, and they thought it was really interesting, so…. well, you decide.
The thing is, I always thought that the MPs’ expenses scandal arose basically because of the political impossibility of MPs awarding themselves sensible pay rises. With the media and large chunks of the public waiting to heap scorn and abuse on them whenever they award themselves any kind of pay rise at all, let alone one that would keep them within a million miles of other people doing difficult, stressful, exhausting and important white-collar jobs, there simply had to be some sort of compensatory mechanism to keep anyone remotely employable interested in doing the job – and being able to put in claims for duck ponds and all the rest of it was that compensatory mechanism.
(Since I’m not going to get any scorn or abuse whatever I say on this subject, I feel I should say something about just how absurdly low MPs’ salaries actually are. In my career in advertising, not these days a very high-pay area, my salary as a copywriter overtook a backbench MP’s about four or five years into my career, and by the time I was running a rather shambolic little agency with 20 or 30 people on the payroll I was making more than the Prime Minister. In a high-pay area like asset management, graduate trainees are making more than MPs, and if you’re not making three or four times more than the Prime Minister within ten years then you’re clearly not headed for the top.)
The basis of the parallel is of course free banking. For similar and similarly powerful reasons – scorn and abuse from the media and from many of their customers – banks believe they can’t charge for current accounts. This means that they too are looking for a compensatory mechanism – a way of making up the resulting shortfall – and basically the mechanism, or mechanisms, that they’ve settled on are charging like bastards for everything else and selling you loads of rubbish products that you don’t want or need.
For MPs and banks alike, the fear of the scorn and abuse is so great that there has been very little consideration of the obvious solutions: increasing MPs’ salaries by somewhere between 200 and 400%, and charging something like £200 a year for an ordinary current account. I suppose if you try very hard, you might be able to see these things as positive demonstrations of the power of the media and public opinion. To me, though, I must say – as no great friend of politicians or bankers – they looks more like the kind of bad thing that happens when you give in to the power of the mob.