/UK MPs rewarded for failure with post-election payouts

UK MPs rewarded for failure with post-election payouts

LONDON — British MPs worried — in some cases almost certain — that they will lose their seat in a general election have an incentive to stand anyway: lots of cash.

With the major parties on a war footing for an election that could come as soon as the day after October 31 — when Boris Johnson has promised the U.K. will leave the EU, “do or die” — a host of lawmakers face an uncertain future. But the humiliation of losing their seat could be soothed by a redundancy payment that’s double the statutory payout given to members of the public who lose their jobs.

While there’s no suggestion that any MPs are standing just to get the money, the choice facing them is clear: Quit before the election and get nothing; or stand, and if they fail to get reelected, get a check. It’s been called a “perverse incentive” to contest elections.

Frank Field, who resigned from the Labour Party last year after almost 40 years as the MP for Birkenhead in the northwest of England, announced earlier this month that he would stand at the next general election.

The 77-year-old chair of the work and pensions select committee has formed a new party, Birkenhead Social Justice, to fight a seat that had a Labour majority in 2017 of more than 25,000 votes.

“At a time when distrust in politics is running high, it seems odd that defeated MPs can get double the maximum redundancy available to ordinary voters” — Willie Sullivan, senior director at the Electoral Reform Society

If the people of Birkenhead choose the new Labour candidate over Field, he would get a £31,500 “loss of office” payment, plus up to two months of his MP salary (worth £13,244) for the time spent winding up his office and any other administrative tasks needed to be done.

With the political climate being so volatile, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (a House of Commons watchdog that makes the redundancy payments) could be writing a number of checks.

IPSA rules say that MPs who have served for at least two years and lose their seats get double the statutory redundancy pay that members of the public get, as well as the two-month salary allowance, plus winding-up expenses for staff or removal costs.

Statutory redundancy is calculated based on age and the number of years a person has held a job, up to a certain limit. Field’s payout would be the maximum possible for an MP.

Change UK leader Anna Soubry is one of several politicians who are in line for redundancy payments in the event that they fail to win reelection | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Willie Sullivan, a senior director at the Electoral Reform Society, a pressure group, said it is right that MPs put out of a job are compensated like any other public servant, “particularly if we want to see more diversity in politics.”

He added: “However, while there is no evidence the current situation is being abused, clearly it will need to be reassessed if there is a perverse incentive for MPs to always re-stand even if they do not wish to win.”

“At a time when distrust in politics is running high, it seems odd that defeated MPs can get double the maximum redundancy available to ordinary voters. There are many reasons people feel disenchanted, including a feeling of ‘one rule for us, another for them.’”

Independents’ fears

Independent MPs might seem at risk — for having left a party and for being away from the election machines of the Tories and Labour — but they could still hold on.

Joe Twyman, co-founder and director at Datapoll, pointed to research showing that “old, tribal loyalties to parties are not what they once were thanks to Brexit,” with more people ready to vote along Leave/Remain lines.

“That could mean that in certain circumstances, MPs who have switched to become independents could hold on depending on the constituency profile and indeed their own position,” he said.

“In normal circumstances you would expect an independent candidate to get absolutely nowhere at a general election” — Joe Twyman, co-founder and director at Datapoll 

Twyman said that Field — a pro-Brexit candidate in a pro-Brexit constituency he has represented since 1979 — “stands a very good chance of holding on.”

“Frank Field is the obvious example because he’s been in so long and his margin of victory [in 2017] was so large,” he added. “For the other candidates it’s more difficult.”

Other new independents are yet to confirm whether they will stand again.

Ex-Labour MPs Ian Austin (Dudley North), Ivan Lewis (Bury South) and Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) are in line for redundancy payments worth £21,500, £26,800 and £23,000 respectively, plus the two months of salary, if an election comes before the end of the year.

Their former colleagues Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree), Gavin Shuker (Luton South) and John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) are all in line for £9,400.

Meanwhile, ex-Tory MP Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) has racked up a £5,800 redundancy pot, while Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) has amassed £14,200.

Former Change UK then independent MP Sarah Wollaston joined the Lib Dems this week, but is highly unlikely to win her Totnes seat back. She would be due £14,200 in redundancy payments if she stands in the seat and loses.

Elsewhere, the MPs that make up the Independent Group for Change — the successor to Change UK, which performed dismally at the European Parliament election in May — are also facing possible defeat.

Former Labour MPs Mike Gapes (Ilford South) and Ann Coffey (Stockport) are in line for the maximum £31,500 loss-of-office payment if they stand in their existing seats and lose.

Change leader and ex-Tory Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) has built up a £14,200 redundancy pot, while former Labour MPs Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) and Joan Ryan (Enfield) have £12,600 and £6,300 waiting in the IPSA bank.

“In normal circumstances you would expect an independent candidate to get absolutely nowhere at a general election,” Twyman said. “Independents usually get about 100 votes and nobody pays very much attention to them.”

But, he added: “Obviously this is a different case because in a lot of instances what we are looking at are sitting MPs who are then running as independents or indeed as groups of independents or as minority parties and all that sort of thing.

“Even then you would expect them to have very little chance in normal circumstances, but these are far from normal circumstances.”

This article has been updated to reflect Sarah Wollaston’s new party affiliation.

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