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Forget lobbying, the real scandal is that MPs don’t have enough to do and aren’t paid enough

23 February 2015

4:48 PM

23 February 2015

4:48 PM

I am sorry to hear about Malcolm Rifkind, though less sorry to hear about Jack Straw, whose ‘outside interests’ I have had cause to write about here before.

How often do MPs fall for this sort of sting? Every six months? Every nine? Think of all the ones that don’t make it as far as our TV screens because their intended target cottoned on while being asked to speak more clearly into their interviewer’s tie?


Anyway, for all the fun and damage these scandals create, the truth is that lobbying scandals are the gift that keep on giving because nobody will address the twin underlying problems that cause them. Plenty of people agree with one, but almost no one wants to address both. The problems are that British MPs have too little to do and are not paid enough.

That may sound contradictory. But the first — that MPs do not have enough to do was even confirmed before the last election by one of the saints of modern politics, Frank Field. It is the guilty secret of Westminster politics. Almost no meaningful legislation gets discussed in the House because what used to be the business of the House is now largely dealt with by Brussels above or by devolved assemblies and local government below. Kick around this wasteland of ambition for long enough and add into the mix, after many years, the effects of the contempt in which MPs are held and it shouldn’t be a surprise that a feeling of ‘I’m owed’ might develop in the twilight of an MPs career.

And then there is the pay issue. It remains a fact that although MPs are far better paid than most of the population they do not lead financially enviable lives. They are paid about as well as a first year solicitor in London and on that most of them have to run two homes – one in London, and another in their constituency. Most MPs are now rightly terrified of supplementing their lifestyle with expenses.

Anyhow, we know all this, and the answer remains what it has long been: accept that Westminster no longer needs this number of MPs, scale down the numbers and top up the pay of the remainder with the money saved. We won’t do it of course, but I would just say that there is something sadistic in the present attitude towards our MPs. Sadistic because we keep exalting in the humiliation of people for personal failure in a system we refuse to accept is sick and refuse to make well.


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