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MPs and second-jobbing

Didn’t they do well? Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw have done a blinder dragging Parliament’s reputation through the muck yet again. Fair play to The Telegraph too, who teamed up with C4 Dispatches to complete the sting. Fortuitous timing too, this has helped push the paper’s recent difficulties down the memory hole. Yet Rifkind and Straw, deary me. It is true that neither men were engaged in Parliamentary rule-breaking of Denis MacShane/Elliot Morley proportions, but it was very, very bad for all that. Writing to ministers on behalf of paying clients, that’s cash for questions by other means. However, Straw apparently getting paid to sort out Ukraine and EU regulations for his client are, on my understanding, *within* the rules. And there are some politicians who do not understand why Parliament’s standing is so low.

Back when the MPs’ expenses scandal was all the rage, I noted it wouldn’t be long before second jobbing became an issue. It’s only taken five years but we’re finally here. I was very pleased to see Ed Miliband quickly seize upon it, though to be fair he has been tapping this drum for a couple of years. True to form, our leadership-averse Prime Minister has ruled out doing anything.

Contrary to the BBC headlines, the Labour leader has not called for a ban on MPs’ second jobs. Instead he wants a crackdown on paid directorships and consultancies. Quite right too. For example, I’m guessing few people would object to Tory MP Peter Beresford carrying on working as a dentist. Likewise, my ex-boss still teaches one module at his pre-Parliamentary place of work. Ditto for those current and soon-to-be Members who churn out a column or two for the national press. And quite right too. Provided everything is properly declared and does not interfere with Parliamentary duties, why ever not?

Consultancies and directorships are wholly different. A business only takes a MP on in arrangements of this sort if the relationship “adds value” to the company. In other words, gives them a commercial advantage. Hence from the outset the arrangement is potentially corrupt and corrupting, placing the MP in a conflict of interest between their private arrangements and public duties. It also distorts the democratic process, such as it is.

Some 100 Tory MPs last year trousered thousands of pounds apiece from services rendered to a wide variety of businesses. These services may genuinely call on whatever business experience and acumen they have. It might also involve advice on how to get around bits of legislation, what’s likely to be on X minister’s policy agenda. Crucially, their proximity ensures a congruence between their respective habits of mind ensuring that business interests have a preeminent influence on party policy making and the common sense of Tory Parliamentarians. This corrupting web of back-scratching is one of the means by which the Conservative Party stays in touch with its base. It draws sustenance from it, hence why Labour is dead right to attack it.

As it is when it comes to clamping down on things, there are always loopholes, dodges, and workarounds. I wonder, for example, how many spouses and partners will suddenly find themselves standing in for good members on company boards instead? Still, eradicating second-jobbing while ensuring “proper jobs” taken by MPs are properly scrutinised and regulated is one step toward giving politics the steam clean it desperately needs.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid

One Comment

  1. David Pavett says:

    On this I agree that Miliband/Labour has it right. The clarification of his position given here is helpful.

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