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Britain’s Two Job Politicians

The role of the parliamentarian, historically, is one of service. The desire to hold two jobs, or more, suggests that such service is severely qualified. In the quotient of democracy and representation, the MP who is ready to tend to the affairs of others is unlikely to focus on the voter. I represent you, but I also represent my client who so happens to be parking his cash in offshore tax havens. I represent you, but I am moonlighting as an advisor for an armaments company.

This condition has become rather acute in the British political scene. While a backbencher earns £81,932 annually plus expenses, they may pursue consultancies in the private sector as long as they do not engage in lobbying – a ridiculous fine line. Astonishingly, there is no limit on the number of hours they may spend on these additional jobs. Accordingly, members of parliament have shown marked confusion on how to separate their various jobs. Every so often, business has tended to find its way into the member’s office.

A stunning feature of the British system is that there is no revolving door to speak of. Politicians can seamlessly undertake contracts and perform services, irrespective of their parliamentary position. The conditions and rules have a Gilbert and Sullivan absurdity to them.

One such figure exemplifies this. Between October 2016 and February 2020, Conservative MP Owen Paterson received remuneration for lobbying efforts on behalf of two companies: the medical diagnostics company Randox, and meat processing entity Lynn’s Country Foods. The report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, conveyed to the Parliamentary Committee on Standards, was a thorough and scathing effort on Paterson’s exploits.

In his dealings with Randox, the Commissioner found that Paterson “sought to promote Randox products, including their ‘superior technology’ and thereby sought to confer benefits on Randox.” He “sought assistance with accreditation for Randox’s technology” and sought to promote “other, unrelated, Randox technologies.” Then came the seedy connection: efforts to promote Randox testing by government agencies.

The smelly nature of Paterson’s advocacy for Lynn’s arose because of efforts made by the MP to approach the Food Standards Agency, at the request of the company, because of concerns dealing with the mislabelling of the food producer’s ham product and a product used by Lynn’s to cure bacon. The Commissioner also noted Paterson’s initiated contact with the Minister of State (DfID) on the subject of laboratory calibration in developing countries. All were held to be “in breach of the rules on paid advocacy.”

Paterson, for his part, has claimed that the investigation was uncalled for, unjust and pernicious, having allegedly caused his wife’s suicide in June 2020. The Standards Committee did take this into account as a mitigating factor on the penalty, and noted Paterson’s “passion for and expertise in food and farming matters.” For all that, the members found that the MP’s conduct had been “an egregious case of paid advocacy.” He had “repeatedly failed to perceive his conflict of interest and used his privileged position as a Member of Parliament to secure benefits for two companies for whom he was a paid consultant.” Bringing the House into disrepute, a penalty of suspension of 30 sitting days was warranted.

The response from the governing Tories was one abundant in viciousness. In trying to save Paterson from the 30-day suspension, Conservative MPs put forth an amendment in an effort to dismantle the very watchdog that had found Paterson out. A review of the investigation’s findings on Paterson’s conduct was also proposed. As committee chair Chris Bryant rued, “The definition of injustice is you change the rules in the midst of the process.”

It logically fell upon the investigator to face the chop. Stone was duly rounded on. Her office was deluged with abusive messages. The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, revealed after the vote that Stone had been called upon to consider her position. It was, claimed Kwarteng on breakfast radio, “difficult to see what the future of the commissioner was.” Within hours, she found out that her position would probably be safe, with Johnson’s government having executed yet another one of its famous U-turns of spectacular confusion.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had a rather novel interpretation of the proceedings in approving an amendment that would essentially abolish the standards system – if one could even call it that. “The issue in this case, which involved a serious family tragedy, is whether the member of this House had a fair opportunity to make representations in this case and whether, as a matter of national justice, our procedures in this House allow for proper appeal.”

Despite Johnson’s efforts to save Paterson, the MP quit on November 4. And just to make matters worse, a raging fire had been lit, enveloping other members of the government. Former Attorney General, Sir Geoffrey Cox, was the next figure to find himself burning brightly. Cox had received some £6 million in addition to his MP salary for a retainer with the law firm Withers. This included an annual fee of £400,000, and an additional £156,916.08 for 140 hours of work undertaken between April and May 31, 2021.

To show the high regard he held for the voters of his electorate, Cox had also been in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) for a number of weeks, meaning that he was absent from his constituency while being an advisor on a corruption inquiry.

To the likes of Paterson and Cox can be added scores of Tory MPs, among them Johnson himself, who is estimated to have received £4 million from second job income over the course of 14 years.

With typical, and in this case cringing understatement, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has suggested that it would be “wise” to review the rules around second jobs. But she did not favour a total ban, suggesting that Parliament would somehow miss out if MPs could not perform such services as that of a doctor or nurse.

Such a view is also held by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, who claimed it was vital that MPs “maintain connections to the world beyond so that we may draw the insight and expertise that this experience offers.”

In an effort to make some modification to the rules, Johnson has now proposed a measure that any outside role undertaken by parliamentarians, paid or otherwise, can be undertaken “within reasonable limits.” Trevelyan has suggested that “reasonable”, in this context, is 15 hours. Labour’s defeated proposal had been to place all second jobs, bar a select few, on the banned list.

The central question to this unfolding farce remains: If you are doing other jobs that are not directly connected to your function as a parliamentarian, are you really representing your constituency? The likes of Cox, more brazen than ever, square the circle in thinking you do.

 

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9 comments

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  1. Josephus

    This is even more corrupting and greedy than our lot. How can the brits justify this? Will their opposition fight for a ban?

  2. GL

    “How can the brits justify this?”

    Answer, very slightly paraphrased: They can do it because it allows them to gain experience in the private sector for when they leave politics.

  3. Michael Taylor

    There’s still a bit of sleaze left in the Old Blighty, GL.

  4. Phil Pryor

    You want sleaze..,I’ll give you effing sleaze..,never mind those puny foreigners.., we know graft backwards.., Look at Willy the Large, er the Conqueror.., stole the lot, sufficient murdering, said it was all his, down to the last crust or private part (only if necessary) and so it was. All has followed, to the historical satisfaction of the beneficiaries, at least. Now where did I put that brown paper bag from last month’s er.., dealings. And two jobs.., good Lord.., Boris Jocular-Bonkon can do three.., clown, general fornication, delegated but ineffectual ruling, or was that rorting. (Eton’s spelling…) Be assured, the Brits can be shits, and wits, and gits…and if the rorting boot fits.., well…

  5. Ross

    It’s a wonder our lot haven’t cottoned on to this little money making rort.
    Our ‘servants of the people’ must look at their British counterparts with immense admiration for the sheer audacity of allowing sitting politicians to be paid representatives of the public and at the same time paid lobbyists for big business.
    That British voters could accept this rort is a tad worrying.
    But then again what could possibly go wrong?

  6. leefe

    Josephus:

    At least there are some Tories openly objecting to it. Here, they stand together and refuse to concede even the slightest possibility of culpability.

  7. Kathryn

    This type of disreputable rorting, “playing the system” and open corruption is – as always – particularly evident within the entitled, self-serving confines of RIGHT-WING regimes. The outrageous hubris of the ultra-conservative Tories in the UK is mirrored by the rising level of unspeakable corruption, entitlement and sanctimonious hypocrisy of the LNP who’s rorting, self-serving cabinet can barely be controlled by the ineffective, inept and bone-idle Sloth Morrison! We have people like Peter Dutton with an, as yet, unexplained personal worth of more than $300 MILLION – now HOW the hell does a political parasite on an MP’s salary manage to end up with over one-third of a billion dollars in personal wealth UNLESS they had their grasping hands in the taxpayer till or, more likely, being handed loaded paper bags under-the-table by a grateful corporation with a political agenda, eg Serco?

    What is it about right-wing governments albeit the Tories in the UK, the wretched (now defunct) Donald Trump’s Republican movement in the USA and our own version of the Tories right here in Australia, ie the lying, conniving and morally bankrupt, sanctimonious, bible-thumping hypocrites and Hillsong Cultists in the LNP? The sad and bitter fact is that history has PROVEN that right-wing governments are rotten to the core and corrupt from the top down; whenever they start to inevitably STINK in the polls, the war mongering sociopaths in right-wing regimes ALWAYS manage to turn around and seek to get seriously involved in some random war that is NONE OF OUR BUSINESS; willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of our OWN soldiers, not to mention millions of lives of local citizens as was the case in the illegal Iraq/Syrian conflict which ended up destabilising the WHOLE middle east … and WHY? Because ruthless, power-obsessed politicians (like John Howard) started to look for a diversionary war that (he thought) would distract the attention of gullible, Murdoch-manipulated voters in the country from the absolute chaotic dysfunction, corruption and waste committed by the appalling Howard/Costello regime – a government the IMF voted as the worst, most wasteful government in our history!

    I am not saying that corruption does not exist in left-wing governments, like the ALP, but ongoing, escalating entitlement and horrendous self-serving corruption has become SO endemic right throughout the LNP and by just about EVERY LNP political member; that have become so arrogant, so smugly self-assured and comfortable with their miscreant behaviour, that the LNP don’t even BOTHER to try and hide it any more! They are confident that so many gormless Murdoch-manipulated Australians out there will, inevitably, inhale ALL the lies, ALL the character-assassinating slander pushed out against the ALP and the Greens and, once again and again and again, vote into power the absolute worst, most depraved and criminally corrupt pack of political parasites this nation has EVER seen! Yes, these short-sighted Australian voters are, indeed, getting the malfeasant government THEY richly deserve HOWEVER, tragically, those of us who could see through all the diabolical spin, the chest-beating shallow claims, Murdoch lies and smirking arrogance, were ALL dragged down with them!

    FFS, WAKE UP, AUSTRALIA! Kick the LNP to the gutter at the next federal election because you KNOW – or SHOULD know – that THAT is right where they belong!

  8. wam

    80k plus a median claim of 30k expenses when the median wage in britain is 30k is not bad.
    Jo’s mob made a few quid from jobs from brown paper bad style down to electoral phone number of a minister was the same as his business number.
    The simplest solution, to control corruption, is for politicians to release their diaries of meetings- where, when and what.
    I mentioned this solution to a politician, just after her family returned from a holiday to switzerland.
    She paid for the trip by converting her parliamentary perk of a first class airfare to switzerland $40000 converted to 4@$2000 with plenty left over for eextras accommodation, sightseeing and a trip to the vatican. She was so horrified and scathing at the proposal that this old cynic became suspicious about her claims on retirement.
    It was hard not to laugh but I was happy enough that she was dumped. Not too happy at her huge pension which she took to Vic for her retirement..

  9. wam

    After a stint in the pool, I see a point I left out of my political story. The politician takes her/his salary as a given for being elected and it is not to be used. Should a pollie do something they are paid extra. If they go on a holiday they manufacture a reason to claim the costs back from expenses. Remember the rabbott attending a dinner in melb then calling into a hospital on the way to the airport so he could claim from his PM allowances or barnaby stranded in india by gina and had to find his own way back. He hired a taxi in kuala lumpur took a drive and claimed he was looking at road access to airports so claimed airfare. The servants of nancy buttfield lived next door and played bridge with my parents I often heard about the flash dinners at our expense.

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