MPs’ pay and asking the impossible


French anthropologist Bruno Latour suggests that politicians will always disappoint us because the way they talk is to win support, rather than to reproduce the multiple truths of their whole constituency or, even more challengingly, the whole nation. Our expectations are contradictory in at least two ways. We want them to be like us (ordinary, anti-party political, saying what they really think) but we also expect them to express and embody the vast and diverse opinion within British society with coherence. Political parties, and more specifically their leaders and whips, ensure coherence of action by cajoling and begging their own side for support despite endless disagreements.

We want to have more women MPs but we may be disappointed in that too while the work is inimical to happy family life. We expect several jobs of them – governing, raising taxes and making laws, scrutinising, representing constituents, championing national causes and their area, protecting the constitution, and so on – and to live and work in two places and to survive on a salary that does not cover childcare costs. Many professions are underpaid, or demanding, or excessively inflexible about when you work; very few are all three at the same time. Lower ranks of the armed services may be equally tough on family life but the consequences of a less diverse workforce in the forces are less dire for our democracy.

MPs - heroes or villains?

I have been trying to cure my addiction to parliament and writing a book about the work of MPs for the last few months. In a rare visit to Westminster, I went to Millbank to be interviewed by Carolyn Quinn. She was so brilliant at listening that I got completely carried away. The interview went out on  BBC Radio 4 Sunday 7th April at 10.35 pm Despite my waffle, I still failed to say so much. I was going to say that after working as an anthropologist for aid charities in Africa and Asia and watching the UK parliament, I view charity  workers and MPs as morally equivalent.


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