Notice anything about this list?

// 17 July 2008

Today The Independent reports that 60 Tory MPs have relatives on their staff rolls, who they pay £40,000 each.

Shock! Horror! Right?

Well, what the Independent fails to comment on, is that every single one of the examples they cite involves a male MP paying a female member of their family, usually their partner, seemingly always as office manager, secretary, etc. Perhaps there are other examples, of sons and uncles being employed as PAs, or neices as political advisors – the Independent doesn’t list the circumstances of all 60 MPs. But that seems to be the trend.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

On the one hand, the role of MP is a public one, and it is perhaps unfortunate to employ your nearest and dearest, rather than advertising the job and giving it to the best qualified candidate. It is nepotism.

Then there is the nature of the jobs, and the gender imbalance of men taking on the weighty role of running the country (a bit, prospectively), while their wives and daughters are enlisted to do the filing and answer the phones. I can only imagine the power imbalance involved in having your partner as your boss, setting your wage, etc. I don’t wonder, either, that there are few female Conservative MPs (those that exist) employing their male partners to run their office for £20,000 a year, while they most-likely combine an MP’s salary of £61,820 with outside work.

But, on the other hand, do I detect an implication that the reason for the outrage that these are not ‘proper jobs’, perhaps that the women in the family could be expected to do this work anyway, without being paid, and certainly without being paid a decent wage? And, surely, plenty of family businesses are run by paying wages to your immediate family and partner. The Independent combines the story with info about MPs’ expenses, such as the “John Lewis list” allowance for household items for second homes (seriously! Although it’s been drastically reduced and rebranded the “IKEA list”). As though paying someone a fair wage to do a decent day’s work is equivilent to getting an extra allowance for a nice sofa in your constituency home.

Photo by Dan Lockton, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Alice Dale // Posted 17 July 2008 at 1:05 pm

Re: Notice anything about this list

Hmm. Having worked for an MP in the past, I can tell you that the average MP really does work hard for their constituents and therefore works crazy hours. Their holidays are few and far between – when in recess, they don’t go on holiday, they work in the constituency. This means that they don’t see their loved ones quite as much as they would like – in which case, isn’t it a good thing that they’re choosing to spend time with their partner? And yes it’s a pretty good wage – I certainly didn’t get £40 000. But whilst it may be nepotism, comments on these roles being gendered are not (I feel) entirely accurate. After all, they could always both be MPs if they want, like Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper.

Lucy // Posted 17 July 2008 at 2:40 pm

Alice – well said. I currently work for an MP and can confirm that most of them work incredibly hard.

I don’t think many MPs employ their spouses simply to do filing and answer phones – if they needed someone to do this kind of work they’d get an intern. An MP’s office is a very busy, pressurised environment and the role of a researcher or office manager to an MP is most definitely a ‘proper job’, regardless of whether it’s done by their spouse or an unrelated person.

Also I agree with Alice that for many MPs, employing their spouse is the only way they get to see them. As long as it’s properly scrutinised I don’t see it as being a huge problem.

Jessica // Posted 17 July 2008 at 3:12 pm

I have also worked for an MP in the past — not only an MP, but one who is on that list of 60 Tory MPs.

This particular MP employed his wife as office manager, and it worked very well. Their relationship was (and no doubt still is, but I’m using the past tense because I moved on to another job) very professional and very pragmatic. They both saw politics as a vocation rather than a job and worked incredibly hard — who else do you know who spends every Christmas morning visiting people in hospital?

I suppose that you could see it as nepotism. It is technically nepotism. However, the voters knew what they were getting. The MP’s website made it very clear that he employed his wife, and that they were a team. She also had other roles in the Conservative Party, although these were voluntary. Constituents I spoke to seemed really reassured by the fact that this was effectively a family business.

People who criticise MPs employing members of their family often seem to focus on the benefits, such as the relatively good salary. However, there is a serious risk in employing your family. Normally if one family member loses their job, another person in the family can keep bringing in the bread. If you are an MP who employs your family then every four years you face the prospect that you will all lose your jobs. I have found that family members who are employed in the House of Commons recognise that risk. They tend to be more passionate about politics and more dedicated to their constituency.

It many cases it comes down to this question: would you rather your MP had a dedicated office manager who was in effect a second MP who stood beside their partner and campaigned at election time and who was judged by the voters as such, or would you prefer an ever changing and unstable office where the staff leave after two years because the pay is not great for the skills required?

On your other comments…

Firstly. quite a few female MPs do employ their partners. This doesn’t make headlines for two simple reasons. Firstly, they tend to have different surnames, and so are slightly harder to spot. Secondly, they tend to be Labour, and so far only the Conservatives (who alas, are rather behind in the choosing female MPs stakes) have published records of family members.

Secondly, many many sons and brothers of MPs work in parliament. However, this list only states whether they are related to the MP they work for. A number of the researchers I met were related to MPs they weren’t working for. From the stories they told, having an MP for a family member was neither a help nor a hindrance — just an incentive.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 18 July 2008 at 11:33 am

I think paying your family members to do these roles can be justified because so many family members end up helping out for free. MPs work long hours and their families are often drafted in to help with campaigning and more, plus the fact that families have to put up with their partners working long hours. Paying your family to perform the roles they often do for free anyway can only be a good thing.

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