MPs should be banned from having second jobs – but it’s not about the money…

28th May, 2013 11:54 am

Imagine you had a job where you were paid nearly three times the UK’s national average full-time salary. Imagine that job came with additional allowances for certain aspects of the job, and expenses for travel and other costs. Imagine there were no fixed hours for that job, so that while most of your peers were extraordinarily diligent, working six and seven days a week for most of the year, you could slack off a bit. Now imagine that you were allowed to take on another job – or maybe several jobs – that could occupy you for as much as 20 hours a week (or longer – there is no limit). Would you still be giving yourself wholeheartedly to the first job – the one that pays nearly three times the average national salary? Chances are, the answer would be no.

Welcome to the world of MPs and their second jobs. The level of moonlighting is quite remarkable – as the Guardian explains:

“Analysis by the Guardian reveals 20 MPs made more money from their outside jobs than they did from their Parliamentary salary, with some spending more than 1,000 hours engaging in outside employment. Of those, 17 declared more than £100,000 in income …

In total, Conservative MPs declared more than £4.3m in earnings from outside directorships or jobs, versus £2.4m (including Gordon Brown’s £1.36m) for Labour. More than 50 MPs had directorships of at least one company, while 295 declared at least some kind of minimal earnings from outside work.”

Now my experience of MPs is that they are on the whole an extraordinarily dedicated sort, devoted to public service and their constituents, and quite often working hours that are above and beyond the call of duty. So if someone is working 1000 hours a year at the same time, we should conclude that either a) they have discovered a way to avoid sleep or b) they aren’t giving their all to their role as an MP. For the avoidance of doubt, I don’t think it’s a). Some of you are being severely short changed by a handful of greedy MPs. So I’m afraid there’s no choice – we need to ban MPs from having second jobs. Their main job is one of the most important and time consuming available. We should expect them to give it their full attention.

But don’t expect certain MPs to accept such changes quietly. Some MPs take on other jobs because they think they are paid appallingly and that its impossible to live on salaries their constituents would give their right arm for. So here are a few of the more common excuses, debunked:

It doesn’t take up much of my time – this one is a classic. An MP will claim that they only spend one day a month in return for their £20k per year, and that it doesn’t interfere with their work. Oh sure. Presumably they haven’t considered why McEvil Corp would want to pay them so much for so little of their time. It’s vote and influence purchasing by any other name. And are they honestly arguing that if those extra days were spent in their constituents or in the chamber they couldn’t add something to society? Improve something? Change something? If so, they shouldn’t be wasting a space on the green benches in the first place.

It’s only an occasional newspaper article – if you’re writing in your capacity as an MP, then surely writing a newspaper article is part if your role representing your constituents and campaigning on the key issues of the day, and if it’s just the occasional article you won’t miss the money. And funnily enough newspapers don’t have much money, so I don’t think they’d be upset if you handed your fee back.

I need the extra money to maintain my standard of living – cry me a river…and you knew what the salary was when you stood for election.

If you’re doing a second job, then you’re not giving your full attention to your first one. And all MPs have a duty of care to their constituency, their voters and their party to give their full time to their work as MPs. I’m afraid that means you too, Gordon Brown, regardless of whether or not the money goes to charity.

After all this isn’t about the money – it’s about focussing the job you were elected to do.

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  • I agree with all of the reasons not to have outside interests. However you have missed a big one out, which I have a lot more sympathy with. If you are an MP not in a safe seat then your job security is low, therefore I’m semi-relaxed about them ‘keeping their hand in’ at their previous occupation. After all they’ve got a built-in incentive for not spending too much time on their other job as they have also got to balance the fact that in a marginal seat they will be even further jeopardising their chances if they don’t work hard enough as an MP. Everyone is at some risk from things like redundancy, but their are not many other jobs where you can be sacked instantly for something that is not really to do with you. I’m not saying I agree with this, but I can understand it.

    • markfergusonuk

      I take your point – but arguably MPs in marginal seats have a better chance of retaining their seat if they are working full tilt on being an MP…

      I remain unconvinced that MPs struggle to find work after exiting parliament.

      • I know that’s why I said it’s up to them to balance it. If it was me I’d go full tilt at being an MP. However, there are certain jobs/professions etc where you’ve got to do a certain amount each year in order to maintain qualifications etc.

        • “do a certain amount each year in order to maintain qualifications etc.”

          There’s no reason why they shouldn’t move with the tide and, like the rest of us, retrain if/when necessary at an appropriate time.

          MPs receive a resettlement grant of between 50 and 100% of annual salary.

          This should cover £9000 per year university fees and, should they find themselves a little short, they can take evening or weekend jobs working in fast-food outlets or shelf-stacking in super-markets.

      • Alex Otley

        Being an MP, even for only one term, must look amazing on your CV.

        • JoeDM

          It would be a big negative if I was doing the job selection !!!

          It would tell me that the person was egocentric, vain, highly opinionated, and a risk taker. Not good for being part of a team.

          • But think of the connections they’ll bring – all of sudden what previously looked like an implacable edifice will instead become a row of unlocked doors. Each attended by an eager-to-please, Tony Blair-loving, spotty spad wannabe. And all of them scrupulously supervised by all-knowing ‘communication consultants’ (each with previous ‘top-level’ government familiarity).

            And at the end of the day, once you are able to afford ‘generosity’, you’ll probably end up in the Lords.

          • Simon_Stephenson

            One must hope, therefore, that you have nothing to do with staff selection, since assigning identical attributes to 650 people, by virtue of nothing more than that they all work in the same place, shows, I think, a rather over-basic approach to the assessment of the capabilities of individuals within a diverse group of people.

    • AlanGiles

      “, but their are not many other jobs where you can be sacked instantly for something that is not really to do with you”
      If I were (especially) a LibDem I would take it that I had been given 5 years notice, back in 2010, and I had two to go but many people loose their jobs overnight and it is not their fault (e.g. shop workers at Jessops, Comet etc) and they get nothing like the salary or generous allowances and pensions MPs get.
      MPs are very privileged – it’s just they don’t seem to realise it. For example: Eric Joyce: if most of us were involved in drunken brawls at work it would result in instant dismissal, but Mr Joyce will not collect his P45 till May 2015.
      I am afraid I don’t think they are at all hard done by.

    • KonradBaxter

      Bering an MP is an honour and a privilege.

      It should take up all of your work life, any less than that and you’re laughing at your constituents and saying that despite the fact you are their voice in parliament you need to put their issues to one side now and again despite an attractive and high salary.

    • Quiet_Sceptic

      Lots of people work under fixed term contracts and that is all an MP’s role is; a fixed term contract with an option for renewal. MPs receive a resettlement grant to cover the interruption of earnings.

      No business would tolerate a fixed term contract worker, with a 4-5 year contract, starting their role and then dividing their normal working time between their job and their external/secondary interests.

      I can understand MPs seeking out alternative opportunities towards the end of their term but certainly not until say 1 year from the end of their term.

    • Edward Carlsson Browne

      That one is easy enough to deal with – allow them to have second jobs, but cut their parliamentary salary accordingly. You could allow them a bit of extra outside income, but increase the taper to permit a maximum income from an MP’s salary plus outside employment to £100,000 or whatever you deem suitable.

      The docked salary could then be put to parliamentary administration, or MP’s pensions, or whatever else suits.

  • SonofBoudica

    Don’t forget the lucrative increase in household income by employing husbands, wives, parters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children. In no other part of public life is a publicly paid person allowed to employ family members at taxpayers’ expense. It stinks.

  • I think the opposite. MPs should have full time jobs. The job of being a politician should be the part time one.

    We don’t want MPs sitting around thinking of things to do to fill out their days in the office. We want politicians to do as little as possible when it comes to creating new laws, new rules, new ways of taxing, etc. The job of handling constituents issues, such as not getting their benefit, is not a politician’s job, that should be handled by more appropriate organisations such as CAB.

  • RogerMcC

    Do the sums and they do not support an anti-politics ‘they’re all just in it for themselves’ narrative the Guardian are pushing at all but a clear ‘few bad apples’ one:

    £7m divided by 650 is £11,000

    But about two thirds of that £7m is trousered by just 17 MPs taking more than £100,000 each.

    A fifth is accounted for by one MP alone (Gordon Brown’s £1.37 million).

    This means that other 633 get £3,750 each on average and many will get little or nothing.

    So bung them an extra £5,000 pay in exchange for a ban on outside earnings and most would be better off.

  • Jorge Orwell

    Why are the labour party not campaigning for Gordoom Brown to stand down immediately?

    He is the highest earning MP, with the worst attendance record of any MP of any party.

    Get rid of Gordon first and then start on the rest

  • RogerMcC

    Can anyone explain why instead of being able to comment using the twitter, facebook or google buttons as before I am forced to login to disqus and then my comments are put on auto-moderation?

  • Reconstruct

    And why, Mr Ferguson, do you think the constituency electorate should not be the ones to determine this question?

  • Rich Turner

    And if an MP is also a GP? Should he/she give up on medicine?

  • wycombewanderer

    If they’re doing the job satisfactorily then what’s the problem?

    The levels of moonlighting in the fire service are legendary.

    Of course a firefighter with an attendance record as abysmal as Brown’s would have been sacked!

  • Dougie

    Wrong on all counts, Mark. Being a backbench MP is not “one of the most important” jobs as you seem to think. In fact, backbenchers in general are a mix of lobby fodder and overpaid, under-qualified social workers.

    As usual, the commentariat want it both ways. Next week you’ll be writing about how MPs are out of touch with real life. Having a second job is a very good way of doing just that. Dr Howard Stoate was a good example – an MP and practising GP. His constituents thought that was a very good combination and so do I. When the Commons used to sit from 2pm until late in the evening, many MPs had real jobs in the morning and attended Parliament in the afternoons. Harman’s “family-friendly” changes put an end to that, more’s the pity.

    And, frankly, the less time MPs spend at Westminster, the less needless, useless or counterproductive legislation they can enact, so everyone’s a winner.

  • JohnPReid

    But M.P,s who are (shadow)cabinet members on select committees have internal jobs in their parties, are associated with groups within their parties (co-op , Fabians 1922 commitee, red Tory orange book, edit magazines Cldp compass, red news) these are all second jobs

    • Alex Otley

      That’s true, but these are overtly political roles and many may be voluntary. E.g. I don’t think we can begrudge Labour MPs for giving some of their time to unpaid positions in pressure groups. Big difference between that and having a David Miliband situation.

  • Peter Day

    Generally agrre with this, but if Gordon really is using all his income to fund the office that supports his and Sarah’s work and to donate to charity – would we want that to be stopped

  • Holby18

    I have no difficulties with MPs “keeping their hands in” regarding careers. Hence some GPs work a couple of sessions a week and lawyers undertake the odd case. I would like them not to accept a salary for this as both professions are mostly paid for by the taxpayer. In effect, I am paying for their time twice. Should they be paid privatey then they should donate fees to a charity. One Barrister earning some £700,00+ a year is beyond the pale. So too is the earnings of our former PM who retains his seat.

    I am appalled when studying the Register of Members interests which is online. It seems apparent to me that many MPs are spending a great proportion of their times pursuing interests which provide them with additional income. If these interests are very important to them, they should resign their seats and pursue them.

    Further, since the last London Mayoral Campaign I am aware that many MPs set up offices to safeguard their tax liabilities. Ken Livingstone did it, David Miliband and Gordon Brown. Whilst i am sure some activities are for a good cause, I also believe that partners draw rather generous incomes.

    I know there are many MPs who work hard and this can also be said for those involved in Ministerial office. Nevertheless, much of our legislation derives from Brussels and we also have devolved administrations who take responsibility for many matters and have paid elected officials to do so. Our democracy is costing us more as we have not reduced the number of MPs to take account of the changes.

    I think the taxpayer is being treated as a fool by permitting those whom we elect to have second jobs and to earn such huge sums of money. In their absence, their work is being done by the staff that we pay for. Those involved in such activities should hang their heads in shame.

  • ColinAdkins

    This article appears after IPSO survey revealed that MPs believe they should get a substantial pay rise and their platinum platted final salary scheme is affordable whilst other public sector schemes are not. If MPs play the game they can expect a massive pension, a peerage with the ability to claim many thousands of pound in ex’s and supplemented by whatever they can get out of ‘consultancies’ etc, all in an expensively subsidised club. ‘Executive of the bourgeoisie’ rings true to me.

  • Mark Myword

    Do we really want all our MPs to become separated from the world outside the House or their constituency? Is there not a case for saying that keeping contact with their profession, or the business world, or the voluntary sector gives them a wider perspective on public affairs? Introducing a ban on outside work (incidentally, would it prohibit self-employment or book writing?) will create a cadre of professional politicians – not citizen legislators. Furthermore, it will certainly reduce even further the number of able cabdidates who are willing to stand for election. I would go in the opposite direction and encourage all our legislators to cultivate outside interestes including employment.

  • george

    just how often does he attend the debates in the HoC – once every 6 months? … and how much does he make by NOT doing his day job and swanning off around the world?

    If tried that I’d get sacked PDQ!

  • Simon_Stephenson

    Well this all depends what you want to get from your MPs. There are undoubtedly highly capable people to whom a middle-manager level MP’s salary is not enough to provide for their families in anywhere near the way they would be provided for if these people were in any other job. But of course, if you don’t think that the ability of the participants has much effect on the quality of Parliament’s output, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s staffed by intellectual plodders and low-achievers rather than by society’s brightest and best. In fact, it’s probably better for society’s best not to waste their talents in Parliament, since they can achieve so much more for both themselves, and society as a whole, by doing something else.

    The point then arises that if it doesn’t really matter who represents us in Parliament, why do we bother to go through the rigmarole of elections in the first place?

  • Eu Realist

    But what is the job they were elected to do!
    Have they not outsourced their work to the EU.
    That being the case we do not need as many and we do not need to pay them as much, as we already have monkeys why not just pay them the peanuts they deserve.

  • Aaron D Highside

    MPs used to do the job out of a sense of duty; it is probably fair to use the word ‘vocation’ – but then that word also used to apply to teaching and nursing. Now they are just jobs.

  • Amber_Star

    Mark, some MPs pay for staff from their outside earnings so their constituents are not necessarily neglected by the MP having outside interests. And it isn’t just about the money, it’s about whether their other work is compatible with them being an MP.

  • surreygeezer

    After the 1997 General Election our MP calmly told his constituents that from then onwards he would only attend HoC for 3 days a week, the other 2 he would spend on his own interests.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    It is not up to me to try to defend MPs (and who would try, after the expenses scandal), but – and I am certain that this will be unpopular on LL – there is the reality that many other jobs of perhaps less complexity, and certainly less importance to our society, are paid very much more than MPs, and if we want the best among our society to become MPs, this is a reality with which we must deal.

    (One problem seems to be that MPs are “self-employed” – no one can stop them having other jobs. This surely is open to question)

    I would rather an MP is paid triple the rate but disbarred from claiming expenses apart from travel and hotel accommodation. The net result is the same in terms of cost, but is more honest.

    From Google, other jobs which are paid £200,000, and judge for yourself if they are more important than an MP’s role:

    Some Council Chief Executives.
    700 GPs across the country.
    A number of Police Chief Constables.
    1,000 public sector workers (and 38,000 earn over £100,000) See

    Most Headteachers earn over £65,000.

    All NHS Consultants that I am aware of earn over £70,000, and many a multiple of that including their private work.

    Most BBC executives earn over £100,000

    All of that in the public sector. The private sector is another thing entirely. My wife owns part of her business with a handful of business partners, and has in the past earned triple an MPs salary, other years the partners pay themselves less and keep the money in their business. It is their choice, but she would not do it or take the financial risks if in some years she does not bank a quite large amount of money. It is the way of the world.

    • Hugh

      Can you explain why, particularly, we need back bench MPs (as opposed to ministers who are already paid far more) to be the “best among our society”. How much influence and real power do you think they actually have? And is there any evidence at all that those MPs with top end Oxbridge degrees are the most effective and make the greatest contribution to our constituents?

      I don’t really see much evidence our MPs lack qualifications, rather than character. You don’t have to pay for the latter.

  • Sane anti-ideologue

    So you are saying that either: (a) MPs shouldn’t write articles in newspapers; or (b) if they do so, they should do it for free.

    I think option (a) is slightly scary in that you are saying that MPs should not be able to communicate with the public. This doesn’t really fit with free speech in a democratic society does it? Option (b) is quite simply pathetic. Why shouldn’t MPs be paid to contribute to a newspaper? Newspapers aren’t charities and MPs should be paid like anybody else for writing articles for them. I thought you said that your argument wasn’t about the money? I am not so sure…

    It is hugely beneficial to have MPs in the commons who know something more that the incestuous trench warfare of Westminster politics and I would vote for a practising doctor, barrister, trade unionist or whatever every time over an obsessive machine politician.

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  • markfergusonuk

    At least in part because most of the worst offenders are in the safest of safe seats

  • JohnPReid

    If someone had their own business before becoming a M.p it would be difficult to put the business on hold while being a M. P look at Michael Mechers property or Michael Heselrines book printers.

  • True Leveller A074700

    Parliament should adopt the rules it made for local government. If you have an interest, you cannot take part in the debate, you cannot vote.

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  • Paul 保羅 باول Billanie

    Got a couple of suggestions on this issue. A) IF they get any raise it should (as it is paid by taxpayers) be classed as public sector pay…which if I recall is capped at 1% increase. So 1% all round for the MPs as well then. OR B) They can have as much as they like…IF IT IS THEIR PARTIES WHO ARE PAYING THE WAGES AND EXPENSES! Then we the taxpayers would never again need hear about this greedy bunch who are far from hard done by. No set qualifications needed. No minimum hours of work. No minimum standard or target they must meet. In exchange for which they get subsidized travel and meals plus expenses for second homes and office running costs. I suggest they can have whatever they want, as long as the PARTY they represent pays!

  • evanprice

    So, on the basis of this argument, no MP should be a minister!

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