Are SDLP “Wrong” To Turn Down Salary Increase?

The SDLP deservedly got some good publicity last week. The Party has decided NOT to accept the £5,000 salary increase awarded to members of the Assembly. I should add that Michael Copeland the UUP MLA for East Belfast has followed suit. Fair play to them all. Their reasoning is that in times of austerity, when their constituents are being asked to take a “hit”, it would be wrong and offensive to take a salary increase.
With fourteen MLAs this represents £70,000 per annum which stays in Government coffers.
Sinn Fein with twenty nine MLAs thats £145,000 extra for the Party. Note…this will NOT be going to the individual…or so SF claim.
People are skeptical of Sinn Feins claim that those paid from the public purse “pool” the cash and only the average industrial wage is taken. The surplus is distributed among the wider staff.
Curbing my skepticism…there is really no way of knowing if it is true, I think it makes sense for Sinn Fein to do exactly that. It is after all a very disciplined organisation …one might say on …ahem revolutionary military lines…so the notion that a SF Press Officer takes home the same pay as Martin McGuinness makes perfect sense. The notion that jobs are interchangeable…that people can be co-opted into the Assembly or transferred from Special Advisor (nominally on £90,000 per annum to average industrial wage of £23,000) without losing out in terms of credibilty and finance has advantages.
So Sinn Fein will probably use the £145,000 windfall to hire another six or seven full time workers…which builds the party organisation even further.
Just how many people are on the Sinn Fein payroll is a big question.
With about eight Special Advisors on an official salary of £90,000 and an unofficial one of £23,000…thats a lot of patronage in the hands of the Sinn Fein ledership.

Frankly I think that Sinn Fein overplays the whole “average industrial wage” thing. They are representing an increasingly aspirational Catholic middle class. People aspire to be solicitors, doctors, accountants and it is certainly possible to be a member of the “professional class” and have a social conscience.

It is of course unpopular to say it but politicians deserve a decent salary. My commenters (sic) will correct me if I am wrong but I understand that a MLA salary is around £40,000…its decent without being extravagant. But Sinn Fein are wrong to push the populist line that they get by on the average industrial wage.
One of the weapons Conservatives used against the Labour Party more than a century ago was to deny a decent salary. ..to ensure that people could not afford to be MPs unless privately financed.

The Labourer is worthy of his hire.
But we know that a Special Advisor is paid more than double the salary of a MLA. And therein lies the problem. While the office workers are often paid at ( below average) civil service clerical rates, the people with fancy titles working for the political parties are overpaid. Those policy wonks and press officers.

In their own minds they fix their earnings potential on the salaries of people in the private sector…working for NGOs and lobby groups, the charity sector.
A political party like the SDLP feels it should pay the going rate for the job. Which is all very noble but Id not be surprised if there were was maybe one or two SDLP employees with a package worth more than £50,000.
That is simply too much.
In saying that of course I am effectively ruling myself out of ever being employed by SDLP. And I declare an interest that I have tried and failed on three occasions to become a SDLP intern (expenses only). This included two occasions when I applied to work in the Press Office.

A senior SDLP took the view that I am exactly the wrong sort of person to work in a Press Office. My readers MIGHT think that I have SOME talent and SDLP under-use me. In fact they dont use me at all.
SDLP has a tradition of preferring its enemies to its friends.
But that was only internship.
Consider actual EMPLOYMENT.
I have no idea what a SDLP Press Officer earns….lets say £27,000.
Id do it for half that.
Because I could afford it.
I am 61 years old and in receipt of a generous pension from Mrs Elizabeth Windsor.
I am also (thank you Minister Nelson McCausland) the proud holder of a Translink Bus Pass which entitles me to free transport…and would probably be worth more than £4,000 to travel to work at Stormont.

So the SDLP COULD save itself some money.
Now let me emphasise this is NOT a very clever pitch for employment with SDLP.
That train has long left the station.
Having an interview with the SDLP General Secretary and pitching that he/she is overpaid is probably not a good idea.

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12 Responses to Are SDLP “Wrong” To Turn Down Salary Increase?

  1. factual says:

    Currently MLA salary is £43k, due to increase to £48k from next April.

    Sinn Féin’s policy may come under review, according to reports in the news, though its worth noting that a lot of very good people are willing to work as MLA and TD for a modest wage, if the work is fulfilling.

    Also it keeps the people in government in touch with the struggles of people. I think that voters may admire the discipline of SF, and the commitment that it suggests for the MLAs being willing to work at the lower wage.

    SDLP latest approach is similar though in their case they have have effectively handed the money back to the government for use in other public expenditure.

    There is an argument that a low wage tends to benefit the rich: just as with unpaid internships as a gateway to a career it means those with a lot of money in the first place can more easily afford to go into politics.

    If I thought that significant people were put off from joining SF from this policy I think it should be stopped but I don’t know what the evidence is; certainly there are good SF politicians who are not put off.

    Increasingly political class seems cut off from ordinary people, so I think the merit in this policy is that politicans remain connected. SF politicians probably come from more ‘working class’ backgrounds than the policitians of FG , FF or Lab and people from that background are surely underrepresented in the Dail?

  2. bangordub says:

    Undoubtedly I should go for the job, I could then employ you Mr Fitz, as a SPAD. What do you think? A perfect plan?

  3. I think the SDLP made a very good decision over the payrise and SF a very poor one. On this issue – and several others – the SDLP are more reflective of the electorate’s views than SF. The latter is increasingly out of touch, at least with northern voters. I think that’s why Gerry Kelly’s actions took so many in the media by surprise. Very much old school people politics that SF has now largely eschewed at the leadership level.

    In relation to SPADs there is a widely held view out there of SF paying off its debts and feathering the nests of those nearest and dearest to the leadership. All parties do it but not all parties are under the media scrutiny SF is. The party needs a return to the deft, populist touch of yesteryear.

    • Id broadly agree …but I think this actually set in just after the 2011 Election. And Sinn Fein leadership has looked weak at three crucial times.
      1…the Presidential Election.
      2…the visit of Elizabeth Windsor. Im pretty sure a lot of mainstream nationalists who vote SF were passing the sick bucket(of course SDLP were lucky not to be in the Martin McGuinness role…Sinn Fein would have destroyed them)
      3…the SPAD thing ( not sure if I should include this one as it hasnt played out fully…in fact Ann Travers doesnt look quite as heroic now).

      And I will add a fourth….the “Fermanagh, UK” thing SF looked uncomfortable.

      • For a lot of Republicans, even within SF circles, the “UK City of Culture” thing was a deeply retrograde step. That caused considerable angst amongst SF’s more ideologically-focused base as I think some might admit (well away from the media). It might have played well with some floating/non-committed voters but its the ideologues who actually get up on a wet and blustery Saturday morning in November to deliver leaflets door-to-door not the “undecideds”..

        Sinn Féin may be going all “New Labour”, all things to all people, but look where that ended up…

      • The net result will be to make the terminology “Derry-Londonderry” acceptable.
        Gerry Andersons wee joke has become accepted.
        Even Tom Kelly in Irish News used it today.

  4. anewdawn says:

    The SDLP should have taken the money and then handed it over to good causes in a blaze of publicity. That would get them a lot more credit than simply refusing it on principle and at least we’d know it wasn’t going to be wasted on flagpoles or bonfires.

  5. Just read the reports on Alasdair McDonnell’s House of Commons spat with Jeffrey Donaldson. Was he baited or is the SDLP trying to up its media exposure? The party seems increasingly uncertain of itself and what it stands for following the SPAD debacle and the intervention of Mallon, et al. At least that is how it looks to an outsider.

    • I didnt hear about it until about twenty minutes ago.
      Alasdair is easily provoked but I dont think thats the real issue.
      People worry about him being the bull that actually looksvfor a china shop in which to run amok.
      But it has never done SDLP any harm to have a bruiser in the Party…whether for having a go at DUP or SF or anyone.
      I still remember when a SDLP member was being jostled in Stormont by DUP-Vanguard types and produced a gun.
      And Alasdair himself a few years ago got stuck in…he loves it.
      But in this case I think its a matter of getting your retaliation in first.
      The DUP ARE BIGOTS. Its a long established case.
      And with a pipsqueak like Donaldson getting all synthetically agitated then Alasdair was absolutely right. The Deputy Speaker was out of line and shows the extrnt to which the DUP have been integrated into polite society.
      As far as I knowbits perfectly ok to say that the Lib Dems, Labour, Tories are “treacherous”, “unpatriotic” or “hating working class”.
      But its not ok to say it about an individual.
      Thats how I understand it.
      Was Alasdair “provoked”. Not in the normal sense of the word that he lost control. And regrets it.
      Did he have a master plan to out-green SinnFein by tackling DUP head on.No I dont think so either.
      But there are very few SDLP voters who dont think DUP are bigots.
      And very few SF voters who dont think it.
      This two month Marching Season is in my view the time where SF-DUP are at their most hypocritical (my view) and at their most fragile (DUP-SF view). I dont know if it was calculated or not…I dont think so but as a person now convinced that it is all a big sham, I certainly WANT more pressure on the Coalition.
      Its a farce.
      The mood of SDLP? I will know better on Thursday night.
      The messages I get from optimists is that they are optimistic.
      The messages I get from pessimists is that they are pessimistic.
      If a few change their attitude, that would be significant.

  6. hoboroad says:

    Doctor Alasdair McDonnell has called the DUP bigots in the House Of Commons. This is true as far as most people who don’t vote DUP are concerned. When it comes to bigotry they leave most people cold.The SDLP leader has hit the nail on the head and should not be apologizing to anybody least of all a little guttersnipe like Jeffrey Donaldson. Well done to Doctor McDonnell for pointing out the facts when it comes to the DUP. Maybe if more people treated the DUP as the enemy instead of sucking up to them constantly Irish Nationalism would be in better shape in the North.

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