Monday 20 March 2017
MPs who let the side down.
Our former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is the latest of our MPs to be accused of bringing parliament into disrepute by taking a second job (four days per week) as editor of the London Evening Standard, on top of earning a whopping salary (is it really £650 000 a year, as the Sun claims?) for advising a global hedge fund, along with £800 000 he's made this year for making a few speeches.
The point is not that he's earning (oops - no, "receiving" ) so much money - as an ex Chancellor I'm sure he's meticulous about his tax returns - but what time has he got left for representing his Tatton constituents in parliament? There's a case for MPs continuing to involve themselves in some aspect of the economy and society other than politics: lawyers continuing to do a little bit of legal work; accountants to keep their hand it by being on the odd board; journalists doing a bit of writing; academics a bit of lecturing; trade union officials representing a few cases on industrial tribunals.
This is alleged to help them keep in touch with the "real world." The question is, how much, and this is where Osborne seems to have overstepped the mark, not just by a little but by a mile. A maximum of 25% of the time, or ten hours a week if we think in terms of a 40 hour week, seems to me about right.
And as for remuneration, the parliamentary salary should be reduced by a proportion of their earnings, just as social security recipients have their benefits reduced when their earning increase. In Osborne's case, that would lead to his paying to be Tatton's representative, but he can well afford it.
There is another way in which politicians are bringing parliament in to disrepute. I haven't seen them, but and pretty confident that in their campaign leaflets for the 2015 election both Jamie Reed, successful Labour candidate in Copeland, promised something akin to undying love and devotion to the people of Copeland, and Tristram Hunt, successful Labour candidate in Stoke, promised something akin to undying love and devotion to the people of Stoke.
Yet both, less than two years after their election, jacked in parliament and went to what they presumably thought to be better jobs (maybe with better career prospects?) - Reed to work for the nuclear power plant at Sellafield and Hunt to be director of the V and A Museum.
Less blatantly, perhaps, Tony Blair resigned from his constituency on the same day as he resigned as prime minister, and David Cameron, having promised to continue in both positions whatever the result of the EU referendum, resigned as prime-minster the day after it was lost, and a few weeks later as MP for Witney.
No wonder so many of the public believe that politicians are "only in it for what they can get ." This accusation becomes more and more difficult to refute as the years go by and the evidence to support it accumulates.
It seems to me that when MPs resign from parliament* without a good reason (illness, changed family circumstances) they should do so without any severance pay, and be forced to pay the public costs of the subsequent by election,
* Yes, I know they don't technically resign, but apply for an "office of profit under the Crown" and so become ineligible