Business Comment: Terry Murden
Why it is essential that politicians have second jobs
Politicians with second jobs, eh? Phooey. Making a bit of money on the side? Get out of here. Perish the thought that our elected representatives might get out more and discover a world beyond being paid to shout insults at each other.
MPs and MSPs are now getting it in the neck for having work that is neither constituency related, nor involved in trying to build a better nation from with the walls of parliament.
This is nuts.
But let’s just do a quick rewind before explaining why it is perfectly acceptable, and indeed commendable, that politicians take on other work.
The former Foreign Secretaries Malcolm Rifkind (pictured) and Jack Straw were filmed discussing possible payments of up to £5,000 a day for using their contacts and experience to benefit a private company in a sting by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph.
It is one thing for elected members to be paid to speak, advise or earn a crust from another activity, quite another when it is used to buy influence. So to that extent they have been naughty boys and paid a high price.
But the purists argue that anyone elected to parliament should stick solely to the job and have no outside paid interests. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, in an attempt to seize the moral high ground, adopted this hardline view in a challenge to Prime Minister David Cameron in the Commons. Mr Cameron was having none of it and the Labour motion was defeated.
Why this call for an outright ban?
Parliamentarians have always undertaken other work and many still do. Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, is a practising barrister, earning almost half a million pounds, well above the £67,000 annual MP’s salary. Gordon Brown was one of the highest earners outside parliament. Many work in consultancies, write books or have inherited family businesses. Are they expected to relinquish these activities in order to go into public life?
In the run-up to the 1997 referendum on whether they would consider standing as MSPs in the new Scottish parliament, most business respondents to a poll I conducted at the Sunday Times said they would not, mainly because it would mean taking a substantial cut in earnings, a sacrifice considered enough to rule themselves out.
But when the same question was put on whether they would stand if the job was part-time, the number of positive responses rose significantly.
Why should MSPs and MPs be full-time? Do constituents really require an MP to devote all his or her waking hours to their interests? Is a doctor, lawyer or policeman any less attentive or professional for having other activities in their lives?
This debate should also apply to local authority councillors, many of whom used to hold day jobs as solicitors, managing directors of family firms, and so on before attending to council duties in their ‘spare’ time. In the last 20 to 30 years we have seen the emergence of the careerist local councillor, a full-time ‘professional’ echoing the career MPs. Many have gone straight from school or college into politics, having never done a job outside politics.
Politicians should have other work. It should be compulsory. Contrary to being a distraction, it would enable to them to better understand those they represent.