« David Davis's strategic ignorance | Main | Martin McGuinness & the nature of politics »

March 21, 2017


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Patrick Kirk

A real issue is that people like GO can make far more money if they stay out of politics. I can see that people who inherit millions, like Cameron and Osbourne, are free to take badly paid work as politicians. I can't see how I can then complain that they make big money after leaving office. The irritation of GO is that he is still in parliament and at the same time he is being paid to influence how it votes. There is no public service rationale I can think of for his doing that.


Isn't there a benevolent Sudanese(?) billionaire who gives large sums of money to African leaders who leave government quietly after being voted out? I think the idea is (a) to encourage orderly transition of power and (b) to discourage corruption- why risk it if you're going to get a few million anyway?

I have no idea how successful this has been, or how much/often he has paid out.


Right - I was lazy above. It's Mo Ibrahim - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mo_Ibrahim_Foundation

It's $5 million, plus $200,000 pa for life for excellence in African government. Seems to have been awarded three times since 2007.


A good start might be to reform the Lords.

Use the jury service principle and select members at random from the electoral roll, using quotas for sex, age, region, ethnicity and permanent disability.

Create 300 such members and pay them a good sum to work for 2 years.

Onboard them over the summer recess.

Accept that you will have whores and former prisoners, chavs and illiterates in the mix.

Embrace the rapid turnover - for this is what injects dynamism into the chamber and ensures pluralism.

What we might see is a weakening of the PPE-crowd's grip on politics, forcing them to engage with people and views they otherwise ignore.

We might also, in this structure, see a weakening of the partisan system and its voting blocs.

And we might even see some Neo-Lords alumni seek election, who otherwise might have no chance of securing party backing or of having sufficient profile to win as independents.

Worth a shot, surely?


To be fair to Lebedev, while he is a wealthy Russian 'oligarch', as far as I know he's not a particularly shady character, even though The Independent has become a clickbait rag. I've seen his son speak on television a few times and he seemed fairly down to earth kind of guy.


Perhaps it might be possible to recast the law so that politicians were in a position to be sued if they could be shown to be either knowingly acting against the national interest, or neglecting to take proper account of the national interest, or willfully misleading the public.
Suddenly all politicians statements might become more measured and realistic. If the damages were limited to being out of some level of future earnings above a threshold, then it should be possible to avoid dis-incentivising talented people from entering politics.


Luke, that is really interesting, thanks for posting.N


Nicholas, thanks - as I say, I have no idea what the scheme has accomplished, but it does seem like a genuine attempt to award good governance.

I'd be concerned about your idea of expanding politicians' liability for acting against the national interest- you can guarantee that every single ex-minister would be sued by someone. No cautious person would ever want to be a minister. Is that what we want? (Current law about malfeasance in public office places a very high burden on a plaintiff.)

Igor Belanov

"Perhaps it might be possible to recast the law so that politicians were in a position to be sued if they could be shown to be either knowingly acting against the national interest, or neglecting to take proper account of the national interest"

Surely the whole concept of 'the national interest' is completely subjective. I think a referendum was organised last year that proved this.

Bill Posters

Can anybody here define the national interest. I'm sure young GO thinks he has been acting in the national interest at all times.

Perhaps if we up the number of supreme court judges from a dozen to fifty or a hundred they will have enough brain power to figure it out.

Never mind the national interest. Get interested in The National. I'm backing DEFINITLY RED currently 14/1


They have power, we don't.

Perhaps we could require all ministers, MPs and public servants over say £50K to provide a WikiCV. A complete record of their work that is complete, truthful, honest and up to date. All public hires to take account of this CV and any defects to be grounds for dismissal.

Apart from the obvious control provided there is an additional advantage - public servants would be less willing to go along with a daft ministerial edict. This is because today there is a strong risk that a public sector manager will go along with a daft edict knowing that when it all blows up a new job will be available long before the critical report is produced and shelved.

From Arse To Elbow

Perhaps the fundamental assumption of economics - that incentives matter - is right in particular but wrong in general, and simply shouldn't be applied in this context.

The idea that politicians must be nudged into doing the right thing demotes agency, and it also assumes we can collectively agree what that "right thing" is. Surely what we want from them is a balance between intrinsic motivation and pragmatism, not more extrinsic incentives that will inevitably produce structural biases.

Osborne's career to date suggests a man who doesn't believe in much beyond his own fitness to rule. In other words, his willingness to be subject to the extrinsic incentive of money reflects weak intrinsic motivation. The broader issue here is the neoliberal emphasis on technocracy and the market in human capital (see Tony Blair's praise of Osborne as a "capable guy").

In the case of Davis, I suspect that he has prepared a contingency plan, but he doesn't want to reveal it for two pretty obvious reasons: first, as a signal to the EU27 that the UK doesn't fear a "no deal" outcome; and second, because it would be seized on as a prediction by those opposed to Brexit.

William Meyer

Given the significance of government policy to a modern "capitalist" economy--which is simply overwhelming--the amount spent on politicians' pay is ridiculously low. This of course makes it very likely that politicians can easily be bribed on leaving office, or leaving politics.

How about a simple idea: high annual politicians salaries--e.g. multiple millions a year--and a lifetime ban on moneymaking activity thereafter. In other words, serve in Parliament or Congress and you are set, reasonably, for life. This might not pull in too many large corporate CEOs, but so what--they constitute maybe 1% of the talent pool that could handle the job of being a national-level politician. Combine that with public funding for elections (again, a trivial sum)and a ban on private donations, and one could reasonably isolate politics from inappropriate financial interest, at least for the purpose of incentiving politicians to stop doing the "wrong" thing that one wealthy interest or another wants to see happen,

Seeing the strong empirical evidence from the U.S. that politicians, at present, are only responsive to the opinions of the wealthiest 10% of the population, and only really responsive to the very rich, clearly the present system is not working, and the problem isn't this particular politician or that one, but is obviously a systemic design flaw. Didn't Einstein say that true madness is in continuing to do the same thing and this time expecting a different outcome?

The issue of systemic design flaws in government incentives is overwhelmingly important and ridiculously under-discussed. Either we prepare ourselves to go into the grave still complaining about bad politics or we actually get organized to do something about it.

From Arse To Elbow

@William Meyer,

What would be the minimum qualifying period? If it were a single parliament, then we might find MPs aiming for single-term careers. Why do more if you're set up for life after 5 years? This would incentivise venal opportunists, make them more likely to adhere to centrist policy (to secure initial nomination), and less likely to put in the effort to secure promotion thereafter.

If it were a minimum of (say) 3 terms, then this would incentivise MPs to abolish or undermine deselection (which might jeopardise their chances of reaching the finishing line), avoid rebellion and dissent (as this might lead to them losing the party whip), and would further encourage time-servers disinclined to pursue campaigns from the back-benches.

Incentives matter, but only if you make them material, as campaign financing "reform" in the US has done. Our problem is not that politicians are easily bribed but that they are predisposed to support the worldview of the rich. As the old ditty about that related creature put it:

"You cannot hope to bribe or twist (thank God!) the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there's no occasion to".


The problems today must be largely due to an ineffective opposition. Corbyn may be the cause but he's the symptom of years of party failure: had we chosen better, more diverse MPs then we would have the variety and depth of talent that is so obviously lacking.


How about ostracism and banishment as per the Greek city states?


What about increasing MPs' salaries while in office and filling the House of Lords & civil service/local authorities with retired MPs on a comfortable salary + usual perks. The only supplementary income they're allowed must come from academia, perhaps.

Creates a political class but removes the corporate infleunce and might help to beef up Parliamentary capacity (e.g. Crap though GO may have been in decision-making, he has some experience that's useful to future political generations).

Trick here would be making this life enriching enough to be appealing.

Just a thought!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Why S&M?

Blog powered by Typepad