A Tale of Two Parliaments

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. – Dickens

We are living in difficult times. A global financial crisis, rising inflation and food prices, disasters natural (tsunamis, hurricanes) and man-made (Sandy Hook shooting, Delhi gang rape), to name a few. Economically at least though, everyone is feeling the pinch. However a couple days ago, two news stories caught my eye  – the Kenyan MPs who awarded themselves a staggering pay rise: BBC News – Kenyan MPs vote themselves $100,000 retirement bonus…and the British MPs who wish they could.

I find both groups of MPs a bit problematic. British MPs may “only” earn £65,000 but they also get expenses for everything from their rent to travel. If I could take those two things out of my outgoings every month, I’d have almost half my salary back. And that’s the thing: everyone is feeling the squeeze. I don’t doubt that they do a lot of hours, but when I hear comparisons with what these MPs could earn in the private sector, I get impatient. If you want that pay packet, work there. Public service is a different kettle of fish. To those that say that we don’t pay enough to attract the brightest and best: I’d say that we don’t have nearly enough diversity in parliament in terms of women, ethnic minorities, the working class – before we start to talk about wooing more corporate types from the City. I wish those same MPs would be more focused on pushing for a living wage for the thousands of low income earners in  the country. Government contracts for cleaning companies etc would be a great place to start.

And to Kenya. I think the numbers speak for themselves, but there is a wider issue there: the cliff edge that faces so many African politicians when they leave. Too many enter politics for a payday (through your pay packet.. or otherwise) and there is no semblance of a life after politics. It’s not just Kenya; many African nations have his problem. We need to encourage people to think of politics differently, and perhaps more importantly, to conceive of a life after politics. A like our Presidents; we need to offer them something to do afterwards, or there’s a risk they’ll never leave.

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