SDLP leader and South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell has been stirring up a media frenzy this week with his comments on the prospects of MLAs who fall out of favour with the electorate (see here and here).
A politician will never endear him- or herself to the electorate by appearing to complain about their income: there’s no doubt that to be an Assembly member is a tough job and deserves to be well paid, but by most people’s standards it is hard to describe £40,000-plus as anything less than well paid.
Notwithstanding the fact that a lot of our MLAs are pumping sizable enough portions of their salary into their parties or offices, it would be difficult to sympathise with any who failed to set aside at least something for the first few months in case the electorate should tire of them.
Add that to the fact that the experience and contacts four, eight or 12 years as an elected representative bring mean most ex-MLAs – unless they truly disgrace themselves – are more likely to be fighting off a queue of prospective employers than joining the dole queue.
That’s assuming they choose not to resume their previous career, which in many cases will have been a decent job in the law, media, teaching, social work or, especially in Northern Ireland, running a family farm.
No doubt there will be exceptions. I am quite sure it would not take long for a decent investigative journalist to find a former elected representative who ended up homeless after losing his or her seat.
If Alasdair and his colleagues are concerned that this will be their fate, I suggest they spend their time at Stormont ensuring that anyone, ex-MLA or otherwise, who finds themselves in such an unfortunate situation can depend on the benefits and social housing system to get them back on their feet.