The differences in the two rebuttals were noticeable. Jack Straw ruefully acknowledged that having once castigated other Labour MPs for being “suckered” by such a “sting”, he was “mortified” after “falling into the skilful trap” set by the undercover journalists, clouding what should have been his pleasantly “valedictory” last few weeks in the Commons.
This may have been designed to evoke sympathy from MPs on the Standards Committee who could ultimately decide his fate. And he had only been discussing life after being an MP. (Even though he had also suggested he might be able to “help you more” if he were elevated to the Lords.)
Sir Malcolm Rifkind was more belligerent. Yes, he had said something “silly” and out of “context” potentially “misleading”, about being “self-employed”. But he had been talking about his outside earnings, not the MPs’ salary of £67,000 a year – one it would be “unrealistic” to believe could attract those of a “business or professional” background to Parliament.
The television company had acknowledged he wasn’t offering “privileged” information and this had “absolutely nothing” to do with his Intelligence and Security Committee chairmanship. The allegations were “completely unfounded and I am going to fight them with all my strength”. And so, far from being “embarrassed”, he was “hugely irritated and angry”.
In pictures: Embarrassing political exits
In pictures: Embarrassing political exits
1/9 Mark Harper
Immigration minister Mark Harper resigned after emerged his cleaner was in the country illegally. Mr Harper quit after he discovered his cleaner, whom he employed at his London flat for seven years, did not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
2/9 Mark Menzies
Former Conservative MP Mark Menzies resigned as a ministerial aide following allegations made by a Brazilian rent boy in March. The MP for Fylde in Lancashire resigned his position as the parliamentary private secretary (PPS) amid allegations which appeared in a tabloid newspaper, which he strenuously denied.
3/9 Liam Fox
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox resigned in 2011 over his working relationship with his friend Adam Werritty, which saw the Tory MP ordered to repay £3,000 of expenses for allowing Mr Werritty to live rent-free at his taxpayer-funded second home for a year. Mr Fox faced further embarrassment when it was revealed successfully claimed 3p of taxpayers’ cash for a car journey of fewer than 100 metres.
4/9 Denis MacShane
Labour MP for Rotherham Denis MacShane resigned over what a parliamentary enquiry described as “the gravest case of misconduct” ever to be investigated at the time. The ex-Europe Minister was jailed for six months after making false expense claims of nearly £13,000. The former MP previously pleaded guilty to false accounting by filing 19 fake receipts for “research and translation” services. MacShane, 65, used the money to fund a series of trips to Europe, including one to judge a literary competition in Paris.
5/9 Patrick Mercer
Patrick Mercer resigned the Tory whip in May last year after he was filmed by the BBC's 'Panorama' apparently agreeing to lobby on behalf of Fiji for a pro-Fijian cross-party committee.
6/9 Michael Martin
Former Labour party MP Michael Martin became the first Commons Speaker to be forced out of office for more than 300 years following criticism of his handling of the MP’s expenses scandal of 2009.
7/9 Jacqui Smith
Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stood down in the cabinet reshuffle amid a flurry of controversy after the MPs expenses scandal revealed her husband Richard Timney, who also ran her constituency office, had watched two pay-per-view adult movies which had then, unknown to her, been subject to a claim for reimbursement. The ‘porn scandal’ not only saw the former Labour MP Ms Smith, who was the first female Home Secretary, eventually resign but also saw her lose her back bench position in May 2010.
8/9 Sir Peter Viggers
Sir Peter Viggers also found himself caught up in the MPs expenses scandal when The Daily Telegraph reported that the Conservative Party Member had attempted to claim for a pond feature identified as a floating duck island, although this was notoriously rejected. The Gosport MP said he would repay £10,000 in claims for garden maintenance and repairs and agreed to stand down at the next election.
9/9 Prime Minister David Cameron
David Cameron gave his shock resignation in … wait, no he didn’t. Wales Online were forced to apologise after a story that the government was rocked by news the PM had quit was used in a “training exercise” but went live on the internet by accident before it was quickly pulled.
But these differences were stylistic. When it came to the suspension of their parliamentary party membership, it seems Straw jumped while Rifkind was pushed. But both insisted in their determined round of the studios that they had done nothing wrong. Both are lawyers, though Rifkind is a QC and Straw isn’t. Which may be why Rifkind was more precise and combative, while Straw was humbler (even if he had been much less humble when interviewed undercover). Both had scrupulously registered their outside interests. And both referred themselves to the Standards Commissioner and the MPs, supposedly good and true, to whom he reports.
But you wondered how these elder statesmen were “suckered” into boasting about the contacts and skills that might be useful to a prospective commercial client, without questioning whether this was indeed a “sting” of the kind already executed with almost monotonous regularity.
Rifkind, at least by implication, didn’t even accept that, claiming to the BBC’s John Humphrys that anything he had told the undercover journalists he would have been willing to say in a real interview. (Except presumably the “silly” remark which even the most supine interviewer, something Humphrys certainly isn’t, would have challenged.)
But it’s their “falling into the trap” that will dismay many colleagues, since it revives the toxic issue of MPs and money. Rifkind correctly pointed out that some 200 MPs have outside business interests. If the investigations find that the two men acted within the rules, the voters may want the rules to be changed. Again.Reuse content