Ed Miliband is right to crack down on the MPs with highly paid second- and all too often third and fourth- jobs.
In his speech yesterday, Ed Miliband called for an end to MPs having lucrative second jobs for third party commercial operators. As a first step, Labour has challenged the other party leaders on the matter, but let’s be clear, whatever happens, we are committed to regulating second jobs in our manifesto at the next General Election.
In my view we should say that some commercial activities should not only be declared on the register of interests but ought also to be regulated after the next election. For example, no MP ought to be a lobbyist after 2015. We should say we will not permit MP’s who are elected in 2015 to arrange any remunerated contracts to be directors of commercial companies or consultancies.
There may be some cases where earned income does not come into the same category. An obvious case could be where an MP is remunerated for a piece of journalism (although I personally have never accepted any such payment). But in such examples there should be a clear cap on the amount which you can receive as an MP. In America for example you can’t earn more than 15% of your salary if you are a member of Congress.
The British people rightly expect their MPs to be representing them and the country not anyone else. That is what we are here for and that should be the purpose of all MPs elected to this place. Constituents deserve our full attention.
MPs are public servants, a position that comes with an unparalleled level of faith and trust which must not be misused and abused. It is therefore essential that MPs must not seek to gain financially from such this position of trust.
From the current Members’ Register of Interest, it is clear that in just the last year over 60 Conservative MPs were being paid for work for third party commercial interests. More than 50 MPs had directorships of at least one company. Of course they are not breaking any rules at the moment. But it is clear that we must change the rules.
We are facing a crisis of democracy in Britain. People are not at all comfortable with the way things are going; already far too many are disaffected and increasingly disengaged. The current situation does not just risk damaging public perceptions of MPs and Parliament, it risks adding to the growing gulf between the political elite- what Ed Miliband has described as the ‘closed circle’- and the vast majority of people.
This is highly dangerous to our democracy and feeds the right wing demagogues in UKIP and elsewhere.
For those wanting to find information on MPs’ current declared interests, the information available in the Register of Members’ Interests is difficult to interpret and even harder to compare. It is not released in a structured format and contains no restrictions on how much can be earned by an MP through second, third and even fourth jobs (or how many additional jobs they can squeeze in). Clearly our current system is under-regulated.
A recent YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed that of those polled here in Britain, 57% support a ban on MPs from holding second jobs. Just 25% oppose a ban. I would be interested to hear the views of LabourList readers on the subject.
Ed Miliband has instructed the Policy Review to draw up new rules. If the Government fails to introduce political reform of this type, we ought in my view to have such proposals in our manifesto at the next General Election.
The Tories cannot tackle this crisis – they are part of the problem, not the solution. One Tory MP currently earns over £700,000 a year as a barrister on top of his MPs salary- a salary three times the national average. And at least two Tory MPs also currently sit as highly paid Judges, their additional earnings paid for out of the public purse.
The Tories represent a narrow section of vested interests often at odds with the concerns of the vast majority of Britain. Their policies have simply reinforced the perception of ‘us and them’, excluding the many to the advantage of the few. And the Lib Dems are no better- Nick Clegg has already rejected Ed Miliband’s call for new restrictions on what MPs can earn from second jobs.
At a time when the Coalition Government is viewed by an overwhelming majority as the “party of the rich”, the importance of One Nation Britain has never been greater. We must defend the principle that public service supersedes other paid roles; otherwise we will struggle to rebuild public confidence in the integrity of our elected representatives.
Working as an MP is the highest honour in a democracy and there should be no doubt in the public’s mind that we are here to serve the common good and not be diverted into defending private interests. But it is more than this; it is a public service that must not be misused. Imposing limits on paid second jobs will prevent conflict of interests and abuse of privilege and go some way to restoring public trust in our political representatives.
Jon Trickett is Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office