This constant and blatant resistance of the Conservative Party, to dealing with democratic reforms beyond occasional lip-service is fast becoming a sordid and sorry joke. The latest is that of Members of Parliament having second jobs and whether this acceptable, preferable or necessary.
The Cons’ main defence, apart from look! Over there! is that we need people from a diverse spectrum of experience and expertise. A notion with which, actually, only bigots and dinosaurs disagree. Ethnicity, gender, class, educational background, anyone..? Well.. quite. Pointing at Labour, during Prime Minister’s Question Time, today, Call-me-Dave claimed that under Labour’s plans to stop MPs’ conflicts of interest and profiting by second jobbing, ‘we would just have trade union cyphers.’ (12.26), At time of writing this, no journalist has produced evidence that any MP is a paid trade union official, though I’m sure some are digging, furiously.
Miliband responded that he is happy to rule out MPs being allowed to be paid union officials and that, to that end, could easily add the motion to his Opposition Day debate on paid directorships and consultancies. Cameron, naturally, goes all expediently and selectively deaf to this.
The Cons don’t have a leg to stand on over this conflict of time and interest – this ‘serving more than one master’ business. Also, attempting to class a cabinet post as a second job, as Dave did, is disingenuous (12.27): it has a higher remuneration, for one and it’s still a publicly funded parliamentary salary. Anyway, if we think it’s a conflict of time issue for a minister – if it’s too much for Cameron to be both Prime Minister and MP or for other MPs to be both ministers/secretaries and constituent MPs – then we can and should look at that separately. The Cons are being pathetic with their arguments and they know it.
Miliband is suggesting that limits on MPs’ earnings from second jobs should be capped at about 10% or 15% of their parliamentary salaries. I don’t know if this is the best solution. It surely helps an MP, appearing as a paid guest on a news/current affairs broadcast and the small family business type candidate who may otherwise be unfairly put off or even prohibited which, I think, we don’t want to happen. But I don’t know if this proposed percentage will address the more pertinent issue of upper scale profit and influence and I’m not sure how it touches the wider, deeper conflicts of time and interest. But that’s besides my point. It’s just a motion in a wider debate at the moment – but at least there is debate.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Conservative), told Prime Minister’s Deflections that if MPs are not allowed a second job, membership of the Commons will be ‘confined to inheritors of substantial fortunes or “obsessive crackpots” or “those who are unemployable anywhere else”’ (12.36). As if that isn’t happening, already! And Adam Afriyie (Conservative), echoing Rifkind’s indignation a few days back, told BBC’s Newsnight on Monday that “you can’t expect an MP to scrabble around on a salary of £67,000”.
Now, it’s simply ridiculous to suggest that sixty-seven grand, plus expenses, is not enough to live on, (even if we agree, in the end, to an increase in their basic salaries) so, really, aren’t the Cons rather implying that those with alternative financial means aren’t so interested in public service – that it’s somehow beneath them – if it means a drop in income to still more than twice the national average and a curbing of their influence. Justifying second jobs as a way of attracting diversity of experience, then, seems mainly to promote a preservation of the already relatively wealthy and powerful. Because what Democracy really needs is more of the monied, crony class, isn’t it? That’ll get the diversity flowing.
Of course bring your life experience and expertise to a career in politics but don’t expect to use it for the purpose of personal financial gain and the wielding of improper influence. And don’t expect to be allowed to compromise your taxpayer-funded time of public service by continuing to practise your profession. I don’t want my GP, dentist, lawyer etc, to be simultaneously an MP. I want them to be available to and focused on their chosen job. Singular. Choose. If you want to be an MP, arrange to take a sabbatical from your profession, institution, corporation, etc (there’s nothing stopping you keeping your skills & knowledge updated). Otherwise, consider it as a complete career change or wait until you retire. Being an MP is to take up one of the most powerful and important offices of public service. You are being privileged with the honour of serving your constituents and country by representing and advocating in the interests of the common good. That is a 24/7 on-call job. All that is being asked of you is that you respect it.