Groundhog Day doesn’t half seem to come around with monotonous regularity these days. The smoke has barely cleared from the Patrick Mercer MP Cash for Questions questions, before we are treated to Cash for Answers allegations, courtesy of Tory Grandee Tim Yeo, MP – allegedly.
Meanwhile, back at the Beeb, The Sunday Politics wheeled in fragrant fruitcake Nadine Dorries to speak up for her hard pressed, austerity hit MP colleagues.
Nadine, by pure coincidence, is herself to be investigated in connection with an apparent fee for her valiant public service in an Aussi television jungle. But let that not stand in the way of the fact that Nadine actually does seem to have hit on a highly credible solution to the rampant corruption sweeping through our Houses of Parliament.
Nuggets from Nadine: “Many MPs can no longer afford to be MPs, I know two MPs who are going to stand down because they simply cannot afford to be MPs.”
“I have not personally benefited from going into the jungle … I do have a company and I do extensive television appearances and I do get paid for that and I do declare the three grand Conservative Home pays me for writing for them.”
Question from Isabel Oakeshott: “Do you think MPs should get paid 100 grand and absolutely axe all outside earnings and expenses?”
Nadine: “I think that MPs should be paid on a par with GPs and head teachers and I think that if there were no outside earnings a large number of MPs would probably leave and the kind of people you would attract to Parliament would be quite a different type of person.”
BINGO! Let’s just go over that again. Slowly. “…a large number of MPs would probably leave and the kind of people you would attract to Parliament would be quite a different type of person.”
Yep, there’s your answer, right there! Simples! “Quite a different type of person” is exactly what we want! Let’s all vote immediately to double the pay of our MPs before we run off and apply to stand for Parliament in 2015. Nice work if you can get it!
Along the way, be careful to dodge the large flocks of porkers flying overhead.
So, who better to consult? What Would Borgen Do?
Borgen’s Minister for Trade and Investment, Pia Olsen Dyhr comments:
“In Denmark we have a society based on trust. We trust each other and we trust the public institutions that surround and support us. I am pleased to see that this is also reflected in the newest study by Transparency International, as I know that a well-functioning public sector is a key element in running a professional business.”
So far, so predictable. Danish business people and Danish civil servants clearly seem to have passed the squeaky-clean test. So let’s move on to Borgen’s politicians.
Well – blow me down if they aren’t at it precisely as our very own Westminster lot! There’s even a citizens website dedicated entirely to cataloguing Borgen MPs’ alleged snouts-in-the-trough and fingers-in-the-till misdemeanours: http://www.politikerlede.com (Eng: “PoliticoLoathing dot com“) (sorry, Danish only)
Ok, so the tone on the site is somewhat reminiscent of the venerable Artist Taxi Driver, but just because you’re angry, doesn’t mean that you’re wrong.
The Danish citizens’ website laments the fact that quality control of Danish MPs rests with civil servants or “well paid little bag carriers in sober suits”. Most of these “tie-boys” have their eyes on their future careers, claims the site, and hence look the other way whenever those higher up the pay-scale are up to no good. No change there, then.
In fact, it all gets awfully British when the site equates Borgen’s state of affairs with a well known Gilbert and Sullivan lyric from HMS Pinafore:
“Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
If your soul isn’t fettered to an office stool,
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule–
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navee!”
But enough of the amusing rhetoric, now let’s get forensic. We need to trawl back to 2005 to find something sufficiently juicy to attract attention. A tale about “The Swine Baroness” (Minister for Overseas Development and prominent pig farmer in her spare time) tells the shocking story of how this MP employed two Latvian farm hands without making sure that they had the correct paperwork. Shocking. She was fined £15K and a decent dollop of humiliation to boot.
But had she learnt her lesson? Oh no. The following year, the unfortunate lady ‘forgot’ to declare correctly her husband’s share holding in a Ukrainian pig-farm. His holding worth £850K was declared as £750K.
PoliticoLoathing dot com was incandescent! “Utroligt! (Incredible!) We have here a minister incapable of filling in simple paperwork! Someone we have to drag the truth out of, time and time again! More shocking. How long can this go on for?!”
Well, it didn’t go on for long. The Swine Baroness was unceremoniously defrocked.
Five years later there was some suggestion of a politician in Afghanistan misappropriating Danish donations and the relevant Danish minister only telling the Treasury rather than the whole Folketing (Parliament) about it. The Afghan politician paid back the money.
But here in Blighty, we’re hardened to much more robust fiddling-fayre. Sure, there are allegations a-plenty in the famously free Danish media (despite a rigid statutory Leveson style regulatory system) but precious little quotable evidence.
So, does Borgen have an endless supply of incorruptible Danish MPs? And are they all paid £100K a year then? Let’s unpack their pay packets:
The wages of a Borgen Minister (i.e. a Secretary of State) is regulated by law and is based on a yearly basic wage. The Prime Minister gets 125 pct. of the basic wage, the Foreign Minister, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minster get 110 pct. of the basic wage. If a Minister is also a Member of Parliament, the MP wage is deducted from the Ministerial wage. You can’t be paid for both at the same time. Do keep up!
As part of the Recovery (austerity) Package, Borgen voted to reduce their own basic wage by 5 pct in 2011 and 2012. Despite being in a much deeper hole, Westminster merely agreed to freeze their pay. Incidentally, they are currently considering a 30 pct pay rise for themselves.
Here’s a table of Borgen Ministers’ wages before and after their pay cut (in ££ and rounded):
Prime Minister 175,000 166,300
Finance and Home Minister 154,000 146,300
Foreign Minister 154,000 146,300
Other Ministers 140,000 133,000
The Leader of the Folketing earns the same as the Prime Minister
and here’s a table of what ordinary Borgen MPs get paid (££ and rounded):
Basic Pay 68,500
Annual Expenses (if the MP lives in Denmark) 6,800
Annual Expenses (if the MP lives in Grønland or the Færø Islands) 9,000
Borgen provides apartments nearby, for MPs who don’t live on the island of Zealand, where Copenhagen and Borgen are situated,. This is so that new MPs can concentrate on their work, not waste their time running around looking for a place to live. What?! No opportunity to make a killing on the property market?! That’s so unfair.
How different life is, Borgen-style…
So, regular Borgen MPs are paid roughly £3K more a year than regular Westminster MPs at £65,738, but not anywhere close to Nadine’s suggested 100 grand. Brit Ministers, or so-called Secretaries of State, are paid significantly more than their Danish counterparts. That’s because they essentially get paid twice for doing the same job.
Oh, and we also have to factor in Borgen’s 50 pct tax rate.
Like their British counterparts, Danish MPs are allowed to have jobs outside the Folketing, but a moderate web-trawl fails to reveal any particularly scandalous behaviour in that connection.
Despite some indication that Borgen adopts close to a zero-tolerance anti-corruption policy – one-strike-and-you’re-out – and also despite Transparency International ranking Denmark as the least corrupt country on the planet, there still seems to be something rotten in the state of Denmark.
Borgen’s boys and girls do appear to enjoy significant generosity from various corporate corners, there’s no statutory register of lobbyists – but they’re working on that – and the disclosure of personal financial affairs is still entirely voluntary. Transparency? Hmm…
Could it be that, so long as their elected representatives do a good job, the Danes are simply more laid-back about the odd indiscretion than us Brits? After all, their corruption attempts do seem somewhat amateurish, compared with our undoubted British expertise in the field.
Even so, if Denmark is the least corrupt country on the planet, what hope is there for the rest of us?