With the world’s media watching on, we had the extraordinary sight this week of Boris Johnson having to explain at the UN climate talks press conference that the UK wasn’t a corrupt country.
The Owen Paterson lobbying scandal and all the sordid details coming out on other MPs’ second jobs is rightly shaking up British politics. The issue is a lightning rod for the public anger that has mounted over the past year as the stench of corruption has grown stronger and the dodgy links between big money and our politics have become more exposed than ever.
Polls show that huge swathes of the population believe this government is corrupt. I agree—as I told Parliament last week, this is the most corrupt government in modern history.
It’s no wonder that the public thinks this. A public health crisis that has led to tens of thousands of needless deaths has been used as a money-making scheme for the Tories’ mates and their super-rich donors.
It’s worth reminding ourselves of just how dodgy things have got. Over £800 million in Covid contracts went to donors who’d given the Tories £8 million—a very good return for those in the know. Access to the so-called ‘VIP’ lane made you ten times more likely to win public contracts. Ministers have been found to have broken the law with contracts, while a world-leading anti-corruption body says one in five government Covid contracts have corruption red flags.
It’s clear we have very deep-rooted problems in our political system. One of the key steps we can make to clean up politics is to ban MPs from having second jobs.
MPs shouldn’t be lining their pockets by moonlighting in other roles—and it’s especially outrageous that this was happening during a public health crisis, with MPs racking in an extra £5 million from second jobs over the past year alone.
The job of being an MP is not only a great privilege. It is also well paid. MPs get paid £82,000 per year—more than 95 percent of people in Britain get paid. The work of an MP should be the full focus of anyone lucky enough to be elected as an MP.
That’s why I am putting down a new Bill that will put an end to this racket by banning MPs from having paid second jobs, except in limited exceptions—for example, where nurses need to work to maintain professional registrations, or so a doctor can carry on serving our NHS.
There is simply no excuse for a situation where MPs have lucrative second jobs as so-called ‘advisers’ or ‘consultants’. Aside from the issue of them not dedicating their time to the constituents that elected them, these roles are corrupting our democracy through blatant conflicts of interest. When getting paid many tens of thousands of pounds per year by a company, an MP obviously becomes financially beholden to that company. When that happens, can we then really claim that they are representing the public, and not their external employer?
Faced with mounting pressure to act on this scandal, we are hearing all the usual fake arguments to defend the rotten status quo. Health Secretary Sajid Javid is defending second jobs on the grounds they give people ‘real-world experience’.
Yet earlier this year he was paid £1,500 per hour for a second job with a US investment bank, and the same amount again for his third job. This alone puts him in the top 0.5 percent of earners. He’s on another planet if he thinks that’s the ‘real world’ of most people.
This false claim of getting ‘outside experience’ is a point made time after time by Tories in order to defend this scam. But is doing a well-paid job really the only way that these people can think of getting outside experience of the real world? It’s funny how those on these lucrative contracts haven’t gone for a job in a supermarket, as a bus driver, or in their local community—the kinds of jobs that millions of people have.
The reality is that these second and third jobs—or, in the case of Tory Andrew Mitchell, at least six extra jobs—make MPs more out of touch, not less. One MP told the Financial Times, ‘There’s no way I could be an MP without my outside interests… My wife works full time, I’ve got kids and need the money for childcare.’ How on earth do these people think the rest of the population earning way below £82,000 cope?
If MPs want to seek highly paid ‘advisory roles’ elsewhere, nobody is stopping them. But first they should step down as MPs—and let’s see who wants them as an ‘advisor’ then. We cannot keep pretending that MPs are being hired on vast sums for anything other than their political connections.
Banning second jobs is an idea whose time has come, and it is a demand that the whole Labour movement can get behind. Unsurprisingly it would be a very popular move. A Savanta ComRes poll found that almost half of UK adults oppose MPs being allowed to have second jobs alongside their role in Parliament, with just one in five in favour.
Some on the right are also now accepting that the time has come for an end to MPs having second jobs—but they argue that the answer is to pay MPs more. How out of touch are these people? Surely a salary in the top five percent of earners should be enough. Apparently it’s not for some, who then—often in the same breath—talk sanctimoniously of ‘public service’ being their motivation!
Others are arguing for weaker proposals that try to ban only certain categories of second jobs, or are even proposing just a cap on external earnings. That just won’t cut it. It’s not just that the public will think that MPs will try to bend the rules—it’s that all evidence shows that some will bend the rules to line their own pockets.
The time for half measures and weak compromises has long gone. MPs chasing corporate cash is shortchanging the public and undermining our democracy. Parliament has to show people that we understand that the rot is deep and needs cutting out. It’s time to ban second jobs for MPs.