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


  1. Perhaps George is just following the Marxist ideal of being able "to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, and criticise after dinner. (With minor amendments, allowing for the 21st century.)

  2. 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

    I'm not sure you've thoguht that through.

    First, an MP who resigns for any reason, good or not, gets no 'severance pay': the resettlement grant is only given to MPs who fight and lost at a general election. So that's irrelevant.

    Second, if you were to require MPs who resign to foot the costs of the by-election, that just means that any MP who didn't want to be an MP any more would just stop bothering to do the work of an MP — there's no way to force them to turn up to constituency surgeries, or to the House, they can't be dragged there by police or anything — until the next general election, at which they would certainly be defeated, but that's what they wanted anyway.

    So the constituents would in that case be left effectively without a representative for however long until the next general election. Better, surely, to allow the reluctant MP to resign and enable them to choose a new representative?

    [I suppose if you wanted to speed up the process you could support something like Zach Goldsmith's recall proposals, so that if an MP did just stop turning up to things, their constituents could petition for a by-election; but that still means the MP could effectively resign by simply refusing to do their job until they were recalled.]

    I agree that Osborne is taking the mick — but in the end, it is not up to us, it is up to the electors whether they think he is doing a good enough job. They will have the chance to get rid of him within, at most, three years (or much sooner, if the rumours are true (though I don't think they are)). If they are happy enough with his part-time performance to vote him in again the next time they have the chance, well, then that is their democratic right.

    1. (When I say 'it is not up to us', of course, it is up to you if you happen to live in his constituency. I don't, so it is not up to me.)

  3. Surely if the "reluctant MP" ostentatiously refused to do the job s/he'd queer the pitch for the party at the next election. None of them would be so base - surely!

    1. Depends how much party loyalty they have. Some have a lot, some have a little; some may have had a lot, but then been brutally sacked by a new party leader and lost it as a result (this, indeed, may be why they want to resign as an MP rather than serve under the leader who sacked them).

      Basically you simply can't force someone to do a job they don't want to do, at least, not without becoming the USSR and sending people to Sibera for the crime of not working hard enough. Otherwise, you just have to let people resign from jobs they no longer wish to do. It's the only sensible course.

      And that goes double for being an MP, where there isn't even a job description, as such: there's no set hours they have to spend in a surgery, or in the House, or on anything, really. Basically what an MP does is a matter for negotiation between them and their constituents, such that when the next election rolls around the constituents would rather they continued to do the job than anyone else took it over. So there's not even a 'contract' you could hold them to.

      The corollary of this, of course, is that in return for their zero job description MPs have zero job security: at the next election their constituents can turf them out for any reason or no reason, whether they have spent every waking hour assiduously doing constituency business or whether they have barely darkened the floor of the Commons Chamber in between sitting on boards and editing newspapers. You don't have to give an MP a written warning or put them on a PIP; you just put a cross in a box and (if enough other people do the same) out onto the street they get kicked.