Why your MP should only be working for you

It is widely accepted by most members of the general public that MPs are not to be trusted. In a recent Ipsos Mori poll only 8% of recipients thought MPs put the needs of the constituents first. Whether this is true or not; I could not comment, however I believe most people would agree that in our modern society the people do not trust those who represent them in the halls of power. Given this fact you would think MPs would be doing all they could to increase the trust of the public, especially given the recent scandals of cash for access. Labour made their move; they proposed to stop MPs holding paid directorships or consultancies with private firms. The motion, however, was defeated in the commons. The aim of this article is to argue that this was a bad decision. Firstly I will assert that the reasons given for rejecting the bill were blatantly flawed. Secondly I will argue that MPs holing second jobs creates the possibility of conflicts of interest. The final argument will be that for MPs to reject the bill is hypocritical and goes against the current cultural attitudes they are attempting to implement in the UK.

So, firstly, what reasons were given for rejecting the bill? The first argument was that by stopping MPs holding second jobs you would reduce the amount of expert knowledge in parliament and in government. The fear is that you would turn parliament into a place for career politicians who lacked real world experience to make decisions. This argument fails on several different fronts; look at the implicit assumption that having a parliament of MPs who’s only expertise was being an MP is bad. There are many reasons this could potentially be bad, especially in the current system we have. However in theory having politicians who are experts at being politicians is a good thing. MPs whose expertise are listening to constituents improves our democracy. It is always a risk that politicians will have previous ideas about how to do things, and ideological stances; removing politicians who have a history of vested interest work, such as business and finance helps to remove the risk that ideas will outshine constituents. We could also assume that a political system that encourages career politicians; a system that takes small local politicians and helps them climb to the top based on the regard they are held in in their local community can only stand to benefit ordinary voters. The second problem with the objection is that if you support a system of varying expertise in parliament you cannot support the current status quo. The British parliament is not a collection of experts from various backgrounds. Current figures show 25% are from a business background and another 14% are from a legal background. Compare this to the measly number that were doctors (1.4%), or teachers (3.9%), or farmers (1%). Yet parliament feels competent to make decisions on healthcare, education, and agriculture. Only 2.9% can be said to have been drawn up from local government calling into question MPs knowledge of their own constituencies. This bill has not been rejected to encourage a diverse array of expertise in parliament; because a diverse array of expertise in parliament doesn’t exist. If you want a parliament of experts then select candidates from outside the small realm of the business elite.

The second objection that was raised was that the bill would prevent business men and women from entering parliament but would continue to allow trade union employees to take parliamentary seats. The fact that at this moment in time not a single MP works for a trade union, whilst many act as professional consultants, was apparently overlooked. Again I ask of the critic; would this be a bad thing, politicians who are closer to trade unions. Let me first state that I am under no illusion about trade unions. I know that the extent to which they can be described as democratic is limited, they represent a very narrow band of interests, and they, like any institution, are open to corruption and ‘political’ maneuvering. However trade unions also represent workers instead of business owners, they tend to fight for causes routed in social justice such as pay rises and better working conditions, as opposed to fighting for tax breaks and spending cuts. Trade unions exist to protect the working class and key community industries. Whilst I am not arguing they should design social policy I do think that to say their influence in parliament would have negative implications is untrue, if anything MPs who are associated with trade unions could provide a counter voice to those MPs who are associated with big business and finance. The second issue I take with this criticism is that it argues against something that isn’t currently happening, with no evidence it ever will happen. Remember at present not a single MP is working a second job for a trade union. The only way I can reason that stopping MPs working for businesses would increase the number of MPs working for trade unions is if those same MPs took up jobs with trade unions instead of businesses in order to continue to provide extra personal cash flow. Is that really how the government wants to portray our members of parliament?

The second reason I support the bid to stop MPs holding down second jobs is that when MPs do they create a conflict of interest. This is not to say that they will be corrupt or act as lobbying MPs (though one cannot deny the temptation will exist), but that they will be forced to make a decision between doing what is right for the people or doing what is right for their second employer. Often the decisions made by MPs in the world of politics have ramifications for businesses and for the general public, and often a decision that benefits one can affect the other negatively. At this point the MP with a second job has to decide which hand that is feeding him he is willing to bite. More often than not it seems to be the general public who are getting bitten. Let’s take an example. It’s a big one: privatization. Since the Thatcher years successive British governments have undertaken a systematic sell off of state owned assets. In an ideal democracy this would have been done because the people wanted it done, yet a survey by YouGov has found that the majority of people support the nationalization of key industries or at the very least, price controls by the government. Businesses, we would assume, are open to the idea of privatization given that they are the entities who can profit off lucrative government contracts. MPs will have a whole host of pressures on them when deciding how to vote, let’s not allow private business money to be one of them. Corporations already have means of influence: lobbyists, researchers, PR men; but the people only have their MPs and those MPs should be entirely dedicated to their people.

My final argument in favour of the proposal is a simple one and concerns the hypocrisy of the modern day MP. One cannot fail to have noticed the vehement anti-benefit rhetoric that seems to constantly be pumping from parliament; the talk of scroungers, benefit cheats, spongers, lay-abouts, etc. etc. The current consensus is this; “you cannot expect to exploit taxpayer money for your own benefit as a way of life.” There may be variations or caveats that are added to this but I would argue that it is a decent summary of the current political mentality. This is the rule for those at the bottom of the social heap, those unemployed, born into virtual poverty, or disabled. Yet it is not the rule for MPs who are using the position to which they were elected to build private connections as a means of lining their own pockets. Being an MP isn’t an easy job and it deserves the high pay check that it comes with, but this does not mean that MPs can exploit the system for personal gain. It is fine for MPs to push for a culture of social responsibility but they must lead by example and show that they have taken the responsibility bestowed on them seriously and not utilize a position of trust for personal gain. To do that they must stop building private and professional connections with big business for profit.

The aim of this article has been to demonstrate why MPs should not have second jobs and I hope that it has done that. This has not been a criticism of any one party or of any particular policies but an argument against a behavior that represents the dangerous influence money can have on our political system and hopefully a necessary retort to those politicians who want to continue to use the trust of the nation to boost their own bank accounts.

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