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November 04, 2009

Comments

Frank H Little

I see that the gentleman appointed to chair the new independent body overseeing MPs' expenses is to be paid over £100k. Will this not cause some wage pull among MPs?

Francis Sedgemore

"Any pub bore can echo the prejudices of the mob."

Indeed, but the problem is that pub bores often earn a packet in their day jobs. Experts, on the other hand, are regularly fleeced financially, as well as treated with contempt by their political masters.

A career in science is not for those seeking a secure, comfortable existence. And you have to be a complete fule to pursue a career in science communication.

alanm crisps not dunked

Trouble with the argument is, blindly following the sceintist's advice is as unskilled as blindly following the mob.

You could go further than the pay cut - either Plato's philosopher rule or blind direct democracy would render MPs needless altogether.

'people not only hold ignorant views, but expect these views to be respected' you could define this as the 606 problem.

pablopatito

You make it sound like its an either or choice between 'public opinion' and 'scientific evidence', rather than the reality which falls somewhere in the middle. That's where Nutt was in the wrong, in arrogantly assuming he could make statements on government policy when he was just responsible for the scientific part of the decision making process.

A politician follows public opinion in deciding not to make alcohol illegal, contrary to scientific evidence, for example.

botogol

I liked this until I got to
Johnson ... is rejecting the Burkean view
in favour of the populist one

Surely the opposite. In listening carefully to, and then choosing to reject the advice of scientists, he is exercising his own judgement, in the Burkean way.

We woouldn't want a govt that set up unelected quangos to make their decisions for them. We want - surely - govts that listen carefully to many voices and then decide.

Diversity

" ... people not only hold ignorant views, but expect these views to be respected, listened to and acted upon."

These were the type of constituents to whom Burke was replying. Such people are not a new phenomenon: even Daily Mail editorials have been with us for nearly a century. And we still have some Burkean MPs; Frank Field is an obvious one.

As for Alan Johnson and G. Brown, the phenomena of Ministers of the Crown being very unwilling to recognise reality, and very prone to pandering to what they think is public opinion, were familiar to and despised by Burke.

MPs must be paid in the hopes that they are persons able and willing to exercise informed independent judgement; and that they are sufficiently public spirited to exercise that judgement in public affairs for less than the maximum reward it might command in the market. Ministers must be paid more because they have to accept that their exercise of judgement is constrained by the judgement of their colleagues, that they must devote considerably more time to the job than MPs do, and that they may be sacked capriciously.

The paradox remains that the only democratic check on populism is our people's power to throw out the populist at the next election. We appeal to our collective informed independent judgement. A crucial argument for the single transferable vote in election is that it offers the easiest means to exercise that collective judgement in order to eject the populist as well as throw out the corrupt.

ad

"In rejecting scientific evidence, and pursuing a drugs policy that merely panders to the most base and ignorant public opinion, he is rejecting the Burkean view in favour of the populist one."

That is not what bothers me. What bothers me is that he fired someone for telling people that he was rejecting scientific evidence, and pursuing a drugs policy that merely panders to the most base and ignorant public opinion.

Pat

The decision to reject evidence, or at least act contrary to is in general reasonable-the minister may well have other evidence to bear in mind not in the speciality of the particular advisor concerned. He must exercise his own judgement- which must factor in the opinion of the electorate as he understands it. Suppose for example a scientific report was presented to him that euthenasia would drastically reduce the pension bill, and hence solve the financial problems of the nation. Two things are to me obvious. One is that the advice, if followed, would indeed produce the result forecast. The other is that the minister accepting that advice would be lynched- because however skint the electorate is they are not merely concerned with money.
It does seem to me that advice paid for by the government should automatically become public property, and that the advisors should be free to answer questions on that advice- unless of course the minister paid for it out of his own salary. I see this as morally right (we paid for the advice) and a practical good, as we get better informed.
Of course ministers won't like the idea, partly because they take our money to betheir own, and partly becusa it may cause them to justify their decisions- and saying "because I won't get re-elected if I do that" makes them sound venal and weak.

Keith

You know I assume that Mr. Burke was defeated at the Election?

Optimistic Cynic

"The Burkean MP has become an impossibility."

Especially as being an MP is becoming more and more a career choice than a vocation. When your family income depends largely on getting re-elected, you're more prone to be risk averse.

David

"Especially as being an MP is becoming more and more a career choice than a vocation. When your family income depends largely on getting re-elected, you're more prone to be risk averse."

Er, hang on, wouldn't this be more likely the more MPs were paid?

I think one of the problems with the way you (original author now) analyse the effect of pay is that it leaves out the motivating effect of pay once you get past a certain point. If pay is too high, then it motivates people to take on the job even if they aren't motivated to serve the interests of their constituents, and merely wish to attain a high-paying job. In other words, if pay is too high, then it starts to reward cyncism.

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