Economists and government officials rejoiced this holiday week as new figures revealed that the productivity of British workers, long a cause for concern, finally registered an improvement in the third quarter of the year. In fact, the 0.6 per cent increase in output per hour worked caused a welcome ripple of positive headlines and general satisfaction just as everything prepared to shut down for Christmas. But while the Bank of England takes succour from the fact that British workers are delivering more output per unit of time, can the British people say the same of their elected politicians? And how would we even go about measuring such a thing?
We know that the overall approval rating for Members of Parliament as a group hovers around the low twenties, but the general disdain in which politicians are held does not necessarily have any relation to how productive they are. We could attempt to determine productivity by measuring the number of debates attended and speeches made by MPs over the course of a year or a parliament, but this would fail to take into account the different jobs and roles performed by different MPs – though it would quite rightly expose former prime minister Gordon Brown as the political equivalent of the New York City union boss who spends most of the working day asleep at his desk.
Alternatively, we could try judging MP’s productivity according to the number of bills that they pass – but with fixed term parliaments a very new phenomena, backward comparisons would be almost impossible, not to mention the fact that stopping harmful legislation from reaching the statute books is often a far more valuable service to the country than busily legislating nonsense in pursuit of favourable headlines.