Who’d be an MP?

I found this article by ex MP Chris Mullin interesting.

My take is that if you’re travelling for work regularly, you should be provided with travel options that represent the best balance of safety, security, efficiency and value for money. In addition, you should be free to ‘downgrade’ if you wish to for personal reasons, as long as that doesn’t directly affect your performance.

There is also an element of providing comfort for your employee that, yes, is a perk of the job.

Having a ministerial car at your beck and call must be wonderful. I’m sure that, occasionally, it can be a bit wasteful. That said, I honestly think it’s ridiculous to expect MPs, generals and other people who have to travel all over the place to use the cheapest public transport option, just because it’s there. If General Sir Bufton Tufton is working an 80 hour week, making decisions that affect people’s lives and needs to prepare for a meeting during his journey from X to Y, I would prefer him to arrive on good form, rather than jamming him into second class on the 0740 to London Bridge just because it’ll save twenty quid and we don’t want to upset the general public what have it so hard, God bless ’em. If a first class train is the right option, provide it. If it’s a ministerial car, provide that.

There’s a world of difference between someone commuting to work and back and someone travelling to various different destinations on a regular basis, especially if they are expected to work during their journey and to be on top form when they arrive.

I’m used to travelling on the cheap. When I worked in London I took buses and trains. When I had to drive for four hours to Warrington, I hopped in my little Skoda and drove there and back in a day. I wasn’t a senior VP though, responsible for millions of dollars of business. I was a junior Systems Engineer, happy to have the job I had. I don’t mind sharing a two seater Toyota between three, with no AC, all of us sweating onto each other whilst we drive to a customer in African Country X, because that’s not a daily occurrence and if we win the deal I win too – besides, sometimes that is the best and most expensive option available anyway.

I do get immensely fed up with the fact that I have to fly economy class everywhere. I do understand that business class, especially in this part of the world, is very expensive. I grin and bear it and I appreciate the airmiles I get and the accompanying lounge access if I fly Emirates. Also, if I am on a long haul flight, I usually arrive the night before, so get the chance to relax a bit before meetings the next day. If I had to fly for ten hours to Cape Town in economy, jump off the plane, present all day and then fly back jammed in between two large people, I would look for another job. If I couldn’t find another job, I’d just have to put up with it but would wonder what the cost/benefit ratio would be to my employer.

I would be quite happy to fly economy, but have the option, if cheaper than business class, of having two seats booked to make sure that I have noone next to me whilst flying to Lagos for eight hours, for example. With all due respect to my fellow travellers on certain routes, there are specific flights that almost guarantee having someone’s elbows in your ribs the whole way, or someone’s bottom spilling over the armrest, for example. I once flew twice over two months to a certain country on a route that always had 99% of economy class filled with labourers returning home from Dubai. I completely understand why these poor guys did not have the chance to wash before their flight, why they couldn’t read their tickets and sat in the wrong seats, why they squatted on the toilet or crapped in the washbasin and why there was complete chaos as soon as the plane touched down. I don’t blame them for their behaviour, but I do wish I didn’t have to be caught up in it.

My personal feeling is that Sun’s travel policies were stingey. In the old days, you were able to fly business class if you flew over a certain number of journeys every year or if the flight was (I believe) five hours or more. I think that was fair. I have a suspicion that the current rules were partly decided by people who spend their time flying around ‘nice’ places like the US or Europe where shortish haul economy flights are reasonably bearable.

I am not saying that I am too good to travel with ‘common people in economy’. I am saying that I think it’s often bad business to send your employees in the cheapest seat just because it’s cheap. Similarly, I don’t think it makes sense to send an MP home to his constituency on the 2345 from Waterloo, filled with drunk people, noise and dirt, just because it’s cheap and ‘the common man’ has no other option, so nor should our elected representatives.

There’s a difference between commuting to and from work and travelling for work. I think people who carp at our public representatives getting a seat in First Class forget that.

Coming back to Chris Mullin’s musings, the current cutbacks and scrutiny make me wonder why anyone ‘normal’ would want to be an MP and how that affects the type of person that we end up representing us.

As an MP, you are expected to have every aspect of your private life seized upon by the tabloids, face losing your job every five years or so, face ridicule, hositility, resentment and confrontation on a daily basis. All this is fine – it is, to a certain extent, part and parcel of being an MP. On top of that, you are expected to be paid a lot less than you would earn in the outside world. We don’t want our MPs earning millions, but we surely want them to be able to live reasonably when compared to what they can earn in the private sector. It’s not about your local MP being able to drive a Ferrari either – it’s about him or her being able to provide for his family and their future. A single man can live nicely off an MP’s salary. A married mother or father of four has to think of other people who depend on them. On top of that, it seems the direction things are going mean you are also going to be expected to have to travel in cattle class wherever you go.

So who do we end up with as our representatives? Often, I suspect, people who are less interested in doing the job for the boring reasons of helping the country and more interested in the fame and limelight that come with it. That doesn’t mean we get the best people representing us. There’s always an element of attention seeking in any politician, but the current trend seems to be to encourage the more extreme examples to run for office.

Granted, I am not a UK taxpayer at the moment, but if I were, I would prefer those in power travelling in sensibly costed comfort rather than being forced to travel with plebs like me. I don’t want ministers being flown home in helicopters so that they can get back in time for tea and Eastenders on a Friday, but I do think they need some degree of travel options that the rest of us don’t necessarily get.

One Response to “Who’d be an MP?”

  1. SJS Says:

    Bingo! Well spoken; but will “They” listen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: