Our MPs are deeply unhappy people. Mark Simmonds just did something about it

by Kevin Meagher

Ever since Norman Fowler resigned from Margaret Thatcher’s government claiming he wanted to spend more time with his family (although he didn’t quite use that phrase) resigning from ministerial office for reasons other than sexual exposure, financial corruption or manifest incompetence has been something of a curiosity in Westminster.

Yesterday, foreign office minister Mark Simmonds “did a Fowler,” quitting the government in the pursuit of a happier life. At just 50 and with a desirable job and safe seat (from which he had previously announced he was retiring at the next election), Simmonds seemed to have it all going for him. Yet his farewell to politics is evidence that he does not have it all; certainly not the balanced existence he craves.

For him, the ephemeral buzz of high office gave way to the practicalities of family life. Explaining his move, Simmonds said:

“The allowances that enable Members of Parliament to stay in London while they are away from their families – my family lives in Lincolnshire in my constituency – does not allow me to rent a flat which can accommodate my family, so I very rarely see my family and I have to put family life first.”

“Mr Simmonds” reported the BBC “said the idea of spending another five years rarely seeing his children and staying in a different hotel room each night “’fills me with horror’”.

It’s easy to mock his decision – 90k minister can’t rent a plush London crash pad – but Simmonds has exposed an unsayable aspect at the heart of life in Westminster – that so many MPs, on all sides, are deeply unhappy people.

Many feel they are trying to juggle an important job that doesn’t pay particularly well (sorry, it doesn’t) while clinging on to some kind of a family life and, usually, running two homes (or, in Simmonds’s case a home and a procession of hotel rooms). To this add in the perennial demands of constituents, party workers, and whips, the nagging worry of electoral defeat and the glare of unrelenting media scrutiny.

Of course, MPs will never say any of this for two perfectly understandable reasons. The first is that a hundred other people would happily crawl across broken glass (and much worse besides) to replace them. The second is that the public simply doesn’t give a stuff about how miserable their MPs are. In fact, the more disconsolate they are, the better.

Forget about work-life balance; the political life is all-consuming. It’s a wonder that any MPs’ marriages hold together or that there kids even recognise them. This is why so many compensate by having spouses and children work for them. (This, in turn, earns them a bucket of ordure for milking the expenses system and turning their office into a family business).

Sunday’s Observer reported that 15 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party will resign at next year’s election – twice the rate that retired before Labour’s 1997 landslide. There will of course be a range of individual reasons, but more and more MPs seem to be realising that the all-too-common experience of resentful partners and distant children are sacrifices that are not, in the final analysis, worth making.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut


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9 Responses to “Our MPs are deeply unhappy people. Mark Simmonds just did something about it”

  1. Well I for one, wouldn’t cross a path laid out with bottles of vintage champagne let alone broken glass, to be an MP.

    As I have observed before, it’s all very well everyone criticising from their comfy armchairs but lest we forget, MP’s do a difficult job and frankly, in my view, their salaries are not commensurate with the grief we keep piling on them.

    JR

  2. dongately says:

    “Many feel they are trying to juggle an important job that doesn’t pay particularly well (sorry, it doesn’t)”

    you cannot get away with that

    There’s a problem with claiming the job isn’t well paid – 80% of individual wage earners are on less than £40k, 90% earn less than £60k. As a minister he’ll have had a salary of £90k and his wife was paid approx £20k to run his office. That puts the family in the top 20% of earners when you look at how income is spread over two adults in a family

    http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/mar/25/uk-incomes-how-salary-compare

    The job is one of the best paid in the country – it does create additional costs but does have a decent expenses system that will still leave MPs well paid compared to most others.

    There is an impact on time but that’s more an issue for ministers than it is for backbenchers. He could have retreated to the back benches (hopefully all tories will in May anyway) and would have had an opportunity for more balance in his life.

    The problem is that it may be considered less well paid if it’s viewed as a profession that compares to a range of other traditionally well paid professions. It isn’t a profession though, it’s public service.

    Importantly though, we shouldn’t see MPs who put in 14yrs of work and then quit as a failure of pay policy for MPs. He’s served his constituency and is moving on – that’s fine and I’m sure there won’t be a shortage of replacements.

  3. Madasafish says:

    MPs are their own worst enemies.

    They have managed to convince us :

    They are drunken sots and we subsidise their drinking:
    They steal on expenses and even when jailed for it show no remorse- (McShane).
    They behave like children See PMQs-
    They lie frequently.
    They think that the laws of the land should not apply to them.
    They resist strongly any attempt to bring any of their own to answer for misdeeds
    And then they complain they are misunderstood.. and unloved and underpaid.

    The answer is in their own hands. But they don’t want to do it.

    They are living a 1930s lifestyle in a period of 21st communications.. time to wake up and smell the coffee.

  4. Ex labour says:

    I agree with everything written in this blog piece. But a question about MP’s pay. Which group howl in anger at the very mention of giving MP’s a pay increase? Why yes its predominently the looney left and the left in general. We’ve seen recently that recommendations have been ignored by government scared of a backlash from the worthies and do-gooders on their moral high ground, all of course championed by the BBC.

    This is why the expenses scandal ocurred. MP’s needing to run both a constituency home and a home in London for some sort of family life, were using the expenses system as a substitute for a pay increase. This was done with the “nudge – nudge” consent of all party officials and with the house adminstrators complicit in all this. Of course there were those that then took the piss, and it all came down like a house of cards.

    The expenses clamp down has resulted in many MP’s of all parties calling it a day and moving on, mainly for family reasons. But is there a solution ?

    There is massive housing development going on all over London, and the Crown has many land holdings. Why not build a purpose built development for MP’s and families where they would pay a subsidised rent allowing them to have their family with them or come to stay with them? They then can’t “flip” it for profit or use it as some tax dodge or rental property. Give them a salary increase but no TV’s, Sofa’s, food etc on expenses.

    It seems a sensible solution, but Herbert Postlethwaite, MP for Inner Rochdale, will no doubt be first on TV to say his constituents have to live on a bag of chips and one pizza per week and why should these fancy dan southern softies get a pay increase. Cue everything turns to rat shit and sensible rational debate stops. The Gruniad runs a front cover on the cost of living surveying the price of Dominos, Pappa John’s and PizzaHut and demanding that all pizza’s over 11″ be taxed and a ‘Pineapple Premium’ be introduced.

  5. Working life for most people is all-consuming, you don’t have time to fart. Simmonds has just confirmed what the rest of us already know, but few are ready to admit (least of all IDS), that work sucks and we’re all fucking sick of it.

  6. Adam Gray says:

    You may or may not have a point about MP exes (I’m one of those who thinks not) but using Mark Simmonds as an exemplar of this issue is laughable.

    Mr Simmonds owned a house in one of the most desirable streets in Putney, which he bought for around £750,000 and sold, in December 2010, for more than £1.1m. He pocketed that £360k profit despite taxpayers paying all the interest on his mortgage during his tenure as MP.

    It is believed that he sold it not because he was cash strapped but because the new expenses regime ended that mortgage junket for MPs. What a poor, oppressed minority he suddenly found himself amongst.

    But, in addition to pocketing that money: and he did pocket it because his whole complaint has been that he refuses to rent in London, he now gets about £27,000 a year to rent somewhere in London.

    For those of you who live outside London don’t believe all the hype about house prices in London: £27,000 could rent him and his family a 3 or 4 bed house just off the A3 (about 30 minutes drive to Westminster), or Streatham (ditto) – and that’s assuming he is not to be expected (as the rest of us mere mortals are) to invest a fair chunk of our take-home pay in housing costs – in other words were he to cough up some more money he could have an even bigger pad.

    In respect of his home in his constituency, well, a quick Zoopla search can find a very classy detached 5 bed home for the profit he made on his Putney property. When he stands down next year, he will again pocket this money.

    I in no way want to diminish the struggle of MPs with non-London constituencies and with young families: but the bulk of the stresses on those MPs are nothing to do with their expenses; they are the stresses of trying to be in two places (work and with family) at once. They are struggles many people grapple with yet who do so without a still generous, and still abused, expenses regime.

    Mr Simmonds’ whining is disgraceful. A Labour website claiming there is some justification for it – in this particular case – is outrageous.

  7. Michael G says:

    If it’s such a tough gig, how come so many of them (nearly half) still have second jobs? I call BS on that one.

    And if the distance is such a problem, take advantage of changes in technology and have a network of linked local House of Commons offices. Why do they all need to troop down to Westminster every time there’s a vote?

  8. Gay Forks says:

    I have heard that Spire Films are researching now for an up to date series of “Worst Jobs in History.”

    The first episode will include MPs, call centre workers, care assistants, journalists and suicide bombers.

    If Mark Simmonds has some time on his hands he could contact Spire Films Ltd.

  9. Maybe if MPs worried more about the 80% of the population that earn far less than them they may find an audience that cares. As it is they should know where sympathy sits in the dictionary…

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