If we now ban second jobs to MPs, we will soon wonder how they got allowed | Gaby Hinsliff
AAt the highest level, it consumes every waking hour, sometimes to the point of destroying marriages, lives and health. Even at the lowest end of the scale, being a good backbench MP isn’t the kind of job you show up for at 5 p.m. sharp, let alone go to bed for an afternoon. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
The only surprising thing about this week’s renewed demands for a ban on MPs taking second jobs as political consultants is that it took public outrage at the paid lobbying of Owen Paterson for the penny to drop. The Scottish and Welsh Parliaments already ban this particular type of moonlighting, so why not Westminster? Ban politicians from questionable corporate gigs tomorrow, and before long it will seem bizarre that an arrangement so blatantly open to abuse – under which MPs can work as consultants as long as they don’t actually lobby on behalf of of their customers – has never been allowed. If a company really appreciates an MP for their personal knowledge and skills, rather than their ability to have a word in their right ear, then they can hire them for a decent interval after they leave.
A side crush is of course not always a terrible thing for a politician. Sometimes this can be socially useful, as in the case of MPs who are trained doctors and nurses who maintain their registration by doing shifts in the hospital, or reservists in the armed forces. Several medically trained MPs returned to Covid services or stayed in vaccination clinics during the pandemic, and in doing so, not only benefited their patients. The Commons were also better informed for members who stood up and explained exactly what they had seen in A&E or (in the case of Nadia Whittome from work) in retirement homes.
Labor observation programs for MPs, allowing them to put themselves in their constituents’ shoes for a few weeks a year, could also greatly enrich Parliament’s understanding of the outside world. But it insults the intelligence of voters to claim that taking five-figure sums to advise big companies – or even to knock out a few columns of the Daily Telegraph – is for the real good of the nation. Second jobs without social value should be banned.
By all means, let there be a quid pro quo for this sacrifice. An MP’s salary of almost Â£ 82,000 is generous at three times the UK average salary, but entering politics still means a big drop in pay for some, and comes with public pressure to forgo any annual raise you may be offered. That’s less than an NHS surgeon or a top-flight head in a multi-academy trust could earn, and while these jobs are endlessly demanding, they don’t always come with daily hate mail, panic buttons in your room and advice from the police to vary the time and route to accompany your children to school.
So let’s review both salaries and the part of the expense bill that covers personnel costs – given that researchers and social workers also bear life and death responsibilities for voters and the risks to their voters. own security for much less money – plus a ban on consultant positions. Improve security, crack down on social media abuses against public figures, give women parliamentarians the right to properly paid maternity leave instead of forcing them to transport their newborns to their constituencies, and take it seriously allegations of harassment and intimidation in Westminster rather than allowing investigations to be drifts inconclusive for so long that the victim loses all hope. Also give defeated MPs more help and support to find new jobs, as politics is one of the few professions where you can be fired through no fault of your own if the electorate turns against the national leader. of your party.
We might even consider how much time MPs spend in surgery picking up things that really should be the responsibility of other public services (notably mental health) that are hopelessly overburdened. There are more than enough ways, in short, to make life in politics more engaging and rewarding. But the prospect of landing a lucrative back-office job, especially once you’ve retired from a government position providing useful connections, shouldn’t be one of them.