On Monday, it was revealed that the Labour former home secretary Jack Straw and Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind had been caught by a journalists’ sting operation, which showed them offering their services and connections to a fake Chinese company.
Both men have significant influence in Parliament and the political sphere, and unsuspectingly offered to share that with the journalists.
While there is some question over whether the men have done anything wrong by the standards of parliamentary rules, there is a much more important debate to be had about MPs’ ‘second jobs’. In conversation with the Chinese ‘businessmen’, Rifkind commented that ‘nobody pays me a salary. I have to earn my income’. Later, on the Today programme, he conceded that it was a silly thing to say, and that he was referring just to his ‘business interests’.
The whole affair illuminates the shady revolving door which operates out the back of the Palace of Westminster, where businesses can affect government policy by paying lobbyists. MPs are moonlighting as pimps for their address books – renting out their contacts for fees of up to ‘£8,000 for half a day’.
Unfortunately, there is an assumption that the £67,000 MPs earn isn’t a ‘proper’ salary – that business money is needed make up the difference. But in reality, MPs don’t get ‘advisor’ roles because they have some insightful business knowledge, they are being paid for the people they know and the influence they have. Needless to say, that influence is given to them by the British people – they make money from the democratic power of our votes. At the point an MP makes a ‘business deal’, that power is being unevenly spread, to those who can pay.
MPs’ second jobs are an exploitation of the political system. Parliament is for making laws, not for making MPs rich. Lobbying should stop.