Coventry & Warwickshire

Dave Nellist: The Coventry MP who gave away half his pay

Dave Nellist
Image caption Dave Nellist is still an active member of the Socialist Party

As many MPs rush to condemn proposals to give them an 11% pay rise, few have taken the lead of the former member for Coventry South.

From his election in 1983 to his deselection by Labour in 1992, Dave Nellist kept less than half his salary.

Along with two other Labour politicians - Terry Fields, MP for Liverpool Broadgreen, and Pat Wall, MP for Bradford North - Mr Nellist chose to "get by" on a wage closer to that of the people he represented.

Mr Nellist, now 60 and still an active member of the Socialist Party, was unemployed for the six months before he was elected, but had worked in a factory for many years.

He would only accept the average wage of a skilled factory worker in Coventry, which amounted to 46% of his salary as an MP.

Each year the remaining 54% was donated to charitable and political causes.

'Want for nothing'

Mr Nellist said he saw his political career as being akin to that of a union rep in a factory.

"At the time time, we were going into the [MP] job like a convenor in a factory, we had the time to do the job but not three times the wage or holidays," he said.

"The engineering union used to work out the returns of all the factories in Coventry and averaged their wages - equivalent to £28,000 or £29,000 nowadays - so that was what I took home.

"I accepted every penny of the full salary, but as the Labour Party we gave away roughly £35,000 [per year in today's money] to help the families of miners in the 80s, community groups, pensioners."

He said receiving less money did not damage "the responsibility" he had to his family and he was very proud of the way his children grew up.

"They didn't want for anything. We went camping as a family for two weeks every year - and still do - like many people.

"I came off factory wages and into that job on the same. I've never had anything different so you don't miss what you've not had."

Mr Nellist added that as a Coventry City Councillor for 12 years until 2012, he continued to take home the same wage by reducing the hours of his full time job at an advice agency.

He dismissed the idea that the more someone is paid, the more they will achieve.

"Why should MPs be any better? How many millions have we been paying the bankers, how many millions do we pay footballers?

"I don't accept the idea that those prepared to live the same life as their constituents are going to be any less representative."

Pay rise 'bung'

On Thursday the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said salaries should increase to £74,000 by 2015, but perks should be cut and pensions made less generous, something Mr Nellist described as "scandalous".

"The suggestion by [Ipsa chairman] Sir Ian Kennedy that the pay rise would be a way of keeping MPs from claiming more expenses is frankly amazing - I was almost lost for words," he said.

"It's basically saying they'll get a bung on their salary as a way of keeping them in line."

Mr Nellist believes public representatives like councillors and MPs should be able to empathise with the people affected by political decisions.

"With a 9% average fall in people's earnings, MPs should not be getting a rise - it insulates them from those day to day problems like food and fuel which have rocketed.

"Millions have to get by on much less [than MPs] so that is why we should pay them so they share the pain and the gain."

Mr Nellist fears the impact of the proposed pay increase for MPs will add to a perceived disconnect between the public and politicians.

"I think it will contribute to a growing disillusion in politics and politicians in general - at a time when millions are having it very tough, those people who may lose their jobs could become very angry if this happens.

"The best people go into politics to do a proper job and to represent the people, not for the money."

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