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Helping hand for ousted MEPs is good for democracy

07 June 2014

When was the last time you sacked anyone? That is, took a deliberate action that resulted in someone who worked for you losing their job?

On Thursday May 22, 16.5m of us did exactly that when we voted in the European elections.

There used to be 11 Liberal Democrat MEPs, for example, and now there is one. The other 10 became unemployed when the electorate voted them out that day.

What will happen to the MEPs who were ousted? How will they pay the bills while they look for a new role? I was surprised to discover that the pay-off when MEPs lose their seat is six months’ salary – way more than the UK redundancy entitlement of one week per calendar year served, capped at £450 a week. So, we are a lot more generous as voters than we are as employers.

Mind you, these are people with dependants and offices and staff, all of whom have to be catered for in their departure. Plus, they had critical jobs, representing me and you in the European Parliament.

I don’t know about you, but I want someone representing me, because who knows what the EU would decide if we had no one doing so?

The EU has been keen, for instance, on quotas for women on boards, which I and my fellow members of the 30% Club Steering Committee regard as a regressive step.

Marina Yannakoudakis is one of the MEPs who had worked hard to oppose quotas and who lost her seat; I can only hope one of the fresh intake will take up the baton.

This made me think what will happen at next year’s UK general election. Under the newly proposed rules, the pay-off when an MP is unseated is much less generous than it used to be, and even then you get it only if you contest your seat and lose it. I suspect that means two things, neither of which help me be better represented in Westminster.

One is that MPs considering retirement will instead choose to fight the next election, to ensure they get a pay-off, and that will block promising and more able candidates.

The second is that if they think they will be unseated and receive only a minimal pay-off, they will work hard to find a new job in the next six months rather than representing me.

Personally, I don’t lose sleep about this as my MP (Ed Vaizey, in case you are interested) is young and has no intention of retiring, and in our constituency you might as well weigh the Tory vote as count it.

The truth is that politicians do have a different work life from most of us. Mr Vaizey, for example, is parliamentary undersecretary of state for culture, communications and creative industries, for which he is paid £22,400 extra.

But he can be dismissed at the whim of his boss, the prime minister, who, by the way, doesn’t have to go through a consultation process to sack anyone – another difference from the commercial world.

So, while I am sure that many voters are glad to see the back of some of the MEPs they helped oust last month, it’s probably not a bad idea that we are continuing to pay them for a little while, and all the more important that we vote in the first place.

If you don’t, you’re still paying, but have no say in who is hired – or fired.

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