LibLink: Julian Huppert: Safe seats and second jobs are at the root of the Rifkind/Straw mess

Julian Huppert MPAs Parliament prepares to debate whether MPs should have second jobs, Julian Huppert has written on the controversy surrounding Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind for the Guardian.

He attacks what he calls an “abhorrent” and “unacceptable” aspect of our political culture and sets out why he thinks there should be more regulation of MPs’ outside interests.

Many of us work night and day to get through our work. We find it is the equivalent of having two full-time jobs – one in Westminster and one in the constituency.

But there are just far too many who don’t behave that way. They’ve been here so long a sense of duty morphs into one of entitlement. They get caught up with the pomp and ceremony, allowing the link between the public and their parliamentary role to unravel.

At the crux of this failure is our electoral system. Safe seats generate complacency. They give many MPs the opportunity to sit back, knowing they’ll get re-elected again and again. And it is often in safe seats where some MPs find they have enough time to take on two jobs. Suddenly they believe they don’t need to respond to casework or do the work in parliament. They are above all that – and why shouldn’t they earn £5,000 a day at the end of their careers?

So what should be done about it?

MPs should only be allowed to take up a second job if the circumstances are genuinely exceptional – for example, if they are a doctor and need to do the odd hours so they don’t forget vital skills. But when this is allowed, great care must be taken to scrupulously avoid any conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

In 2010 I was elected to represent the city I grew up in, Cambridge. At the time, I sat on Liberty’s national council. I gave up that role because I knew that it would look questionable to sit in private on the council with Shami Chakrabarti on a Saturday, discussing what she would say to a parliamentary committee, only to then quiz her in public as an MP on a Tuesday. There was no suggestion of corruption, but it would still look bad.

The problem is far starker when we have MPs working for private interests. We just can’t allow members to work part time for a consultancy, part time in parliament. That’s plain wrong. The inevitable result is that organisations will exert unacceptable influence on parliament.

He also attacks “professional politicians” who have no experience of the working world outside Westminster and  the political dynasties growing up in Labour, although they exist in the Tories too if you look at the likes of the Hurds.

With the rise of professional politicians, whose only experience of work may be as an MP’s researcher or spad – special adviser – the problem gets worse. This creates small, impenetrable cliques more likely to look inwards to the Westminster village, spending their time grappling for power, rather than outwards towards the people they are supposed to represent.

The public are very sceptical of MPs and their honesty, sometimes with good reason and sometimes not. It is down to us to prove we are worth their trust. That means fixing more of the problems of the past, such as those revealed by the expenses scandal.

You can read the whole article here.

 

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13 Comments

  • I still don’t think you realise how bad this is. An ex-minister is saying that give him a large sum of money and he will use his cloat and contacts to try and get laws changed that will benefit your organisation, and that this will all be done under the radar using charm and menace… That is democracy for sale and therefore no longer democracy.

    If I would like to see cannnabis legalised for example, how much money would it take for me to raise to buy the politicians and votes to do it? And way isn’t it illegal to buy politicians like this?

  • Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind did not and do have a outside interest in the company used by the journalist and hence are totally unable to register an interest! Remember the whole thing about “cash for questions” is there is no formal interest to be registered.!

    Likewise “MPs should only be allowed to take up a second job if the circumstances are genuinely exceptional” – until the MP has a job offer in hand can this rule be applied and the circumstances taken into consideration. So likewise we will still have Mp’s attending meetings such as the one’s investigative journalists set up.

    Yes we need to give clear guidance on what MP’s can and can’t do to earn money whilst they are MP’s, but are we sure the current system is actually broken? Looking at the release from the Dispatches team, it does seem that they had a lot of cold shoulders and rejections.

  • Roland 25th Feb ’15 – 3:01pm

    Roland if you want the answers to the questions in your comment — I am here available to answer them.

    I only charge £5000 per day to answer such questions. I am not an MP and I am far less patronising than Rifkind or Straw.

    Please give me the first £5000 in used twenty pound notes and I promise I will not provide a receipt, because we do not want to make extra work for HMRC do we?

    If we could meet outside the Swiss branch of HSBC that would be most convenient.

  • Jenny Barnes 25th Feb '15 - 4:06pm

    I’m surprised that the chair of the security oversight committee was caught out by such an obvious operation. It makes you wonder what his oversight of the security committee is worth.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Feb '15 - 5:07pm

    I think it’s undemocratic to get rid of safe seats. What does it say about the other parties in the area if they can’t even win a seat from a complacent politician?

    Second jobs are a problem, but I don’t agree with banning them until we get rid of ministerial jobs and stick them in a senate.

    Good on Julian for coming out against the MPs pay rise. I would be fine with a pay rise if it was somehow performance related, but at the moment too many don’t deserve it and being against it is our way of fighting back.

    Regards

  • It further disturbs me that the sole practical means to dislodge an occupier of a safe seat is some kind of entrapment exercise. This power resides with those that have the money to do this effectively (Barclay bros. Murdoch etc.).

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th Feb '15 - 6:55pm

    Are so-called safe seats actually a problem – if people want to vote an MP out then there elections for that sort of thing. It is worth noting that several MPs who were caught in the expenses story were re-elected. If you want to solve the, ‘problem,’ of long-serving MPs then the answer surely is a limit of 3 terms? I do realise that if a person wishes to stand and people wish to vote for them over and over then a quite reasonable argument in a democracy is, ‘so be it.’ But an ossified democracy is not a healthy democracy – and for that reason I’d put a limit of 15 years on the time someone can hold a seat. And same for councils too.

    I would also add that I’m not sure that proportional representation would do much about so-called safe seats in many parts of the country. Why is a long-serving MP elected under PR somehow better than one elected by FPTP?

    Second jobs are a can of worms. There are registers of interests, though as someone points out above those are a limited tool. Perhaps jobs aren’t as such a problem where fully declared, letting the voters make of it what they wish. If electors don’t have a problem then I’d have to ask why anyone else does.

    I don’t really know where the line is here. If for example a charity gets some sort of, ‘access,’ via an MP is that somehow wrong? It’s certainly lobbying, but I’d hate to have to try to define, ‘good,’ and, ‘bad,’ lobbying.

    I’d agree with Huppert that there is a problem here, just I don’t think it’s quite as well-defined as he seems to suggest here.

  • Graham Evans 25th Feb '15 - 7:50pm

    One argument that seems to be put forward in favour of MPs having second jobs is that it keeps them in touch with the world outside Westminster and thereby enhances the role they play as an MP. I’m not convinced that acting as a non- executive director gives anyone much insight into what is actually going on on the shop floor, and surely advising and helping SMEs based in the MP’s constituency is integral to the job description of an MP. However, if we accept the argument that an outside business interest helps an MP do his/her job, perhaps the answer is for the MP to hand over any money received to the Exchequer, or at least be required to donate it to a charity.

  • Dr Michael Taylor 25th Feb '15 - 8:39pm

    Being an MP ought to be seen as an honour or a privilege not as a means of personal enrichment. It is an arduous job and should be full time. The majority of MPs do so regard it but sadly people like Straw, Rifkind (and of course Blair) believe it’s perfectly OK to demand huge sums to make speeches or lobby, as if the pension for long serving MPs was not enough. It’s sheer greed and ought not to be allowed.

  • JohnTilley 25th Feb ’15 – 3:39pm

    So you want to keep HMRC out of the loop, that can be arranged… My trusted Nigerian friend, an expert on tax efficient international money transfers will be able to make all the travel arrangements, to facilitate this he will need your passport and bank account details… 🙂

    One of the things that struck me, about the original Dispatches report, is given what has been reported about politicians and their guest speaker fee’s, a fee of £5,000 isn’t very much. But then I remembered the impact the 2012 Olympic’s had on the worth of a UK Olympic gold medal, where suddenly we had a rather large supply of medal winners for all those media appearances, speaking engagements and celebrity endorsements; so perhaps some MP’s are looking to grab any half reasonable opportunity that comes their way now, before the results of May 8th are known…

    I think in banging the drum for more regulation etc. we are also in danger of missing the point; to our knowledge the majority of MP’s are just as Caron says : decent and hard working with a desire to serve the public. So the enhanced regulations will have little real effect, other than to tell these people that they can’t really be trusted to make decisions.

  • Michael Cole 26th Feb '15 - 12:19pm

    Julian Huppert is absolutely right. Approximately 600 MP’s are incumbent in ‘safe’ seats. The ‘battleground’ of the next GE will be in the 50 or so ‘marginals’. LIb Dems are only too aware of this.

    So why, despite the fiasco of the AV campaign, are we not campaigning aggressively for STV and explaining to the public the iniquities of the ‘winner takes all’ system and it’s corrupting effect ?

    Political pundits ask why the Scotland Yes/No referendum produced such a relatively high turnout. The explanation is obvious; Voters felt that their vote counted. In Westminster elections the perception of most people is exactly the opposite.

  • This situation is a lost opportunity. What is needed is a raft of measures to make MPs more accountable to the electorate. Yet all we hear proposed is bans on things that will be overseen by some worthy. Could this approach be because none of the major parties want that accountability as they collectively have not offered a proper recall bill.

  • Rifkind/Straw’s actions are just another examples of a decline in integrity : people want rank and reward but not responsibility. No manager at the BBC or any hospital is taking responsibility for allowing Saville to rape children. No manager in Rotherham is taking responsibility for allowing children , many in council care, to be raped.

    What made Britain and Rome was that leaders were held responsible for failure. Admiral Byng was shot because his actions were not considered good enough. After one battle Hannibal offered to sell back captives to Rome : those who were considered to not have fought adequately were not bought:, those whose actions were still not good good enough were bought back but put in the front line in the next battle.

    Until we bring back a belief that only the highest standards of technical skill and integrity are good enough and those who fail are expected to fall on their swords: this rot will continue. A fish rots from the head.

    The Indian Civil Service recruited the best and demanded the highest technical standards and integrity. Indians and Pakistanis still used to wear the ICS tie after independence because of the respect the organisation was held. A similar attitude was held by the Pakistani and Indian Officers who had served in the Armed Forces prior to Independence .

    I would argue that a major factor in making Britain great was the high standards of technical skill and integrity which was found throughout the country.

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