When does sexual relationship cost MP's assistant a job?

Bedroom police will be needed to check up on MPs who might be having illicit affairs with their staff if the ban on employing close relatives is to be enforced fairly, the husband of a senior Labour MP said today.

More than three dozen wives and husbands employed by MPs as office managers, personal assistants or constituency workers are facing the sack if the report by Sir Christopher Kelly, published tomorrow, is implemented in full.

Phil Cole has been employed by his wife, Caroline Flint, since she was elected Labour MP for Don Valley in 1997. They lived together for ten years before they married in 2001. That belated decision to marry is now likely to cost Mr Cole his job.

“What if an MP begins a sexual relationship with a staff?” he asked. “At what point does it become a formal relationship under the Kelly rules? Are we going to have bedroom policing?

“We are going to have a dual set of rules, one for single MPs, or gay MPs who have not been through a civil ceremony, and one for those who are married or have been through a civil ceremony. Would my position be different if Caroline and I were still living together but were not married?”

Mr Cole, who is 49, gave up a job with Burson Marsteller, one of the world’s biggest PR agencies, to move to Don Valley and run his wife’s constituency office. Previously, he had worked for years as a party organiser.

“The biggest concern in 1997 was the issue of MPs having undisclosed connections to the lobbying industry, so I took a decision that I would give up my job so that Caroline would not have a partner who was a lobbyist. I didn’t make that move for the money. Anyone will tell you that you can make more in international PR than you can on the standard salary scales set by Parliament.

“It’s very well known in the constituency that I work for Caroline, and I cannot recall ever having a letter or a word of complaint about her employing her husband.”

Sally Hammond is also likely to have to suffer for making a career choice to be with her husband, the Tory MP Stephen Hammond. She has worked in Parliament far longer than her husband, having started as a Tory MP’s secretary in 1984.

Her last employer, the Tory MP Richard Page, stood down at the general election in 2005. His successor, David Gauke, offered to keep her on, but on that same day her husband took Wimbledon off Labour, so she decided to work for him. Now she faces the sack.

One possibility is that her husband will do a ‘wife swap’ with a fellow Tory, so that each employs the other’s wife.

“I’m not very happy about the wife swap issue, but I will have to find another job,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind if somebody said to me ‘reapply for your job’. I could easily get it because I’ve got lots of experience, and I know the constituency, but I find the thought of being sacked for being married very distasteful.”

Another idea mooted in Parliament – in jest, rather than as a serious suggestion – is that wives could get a ‘quickie’ divorce so that they can keep working for their husbands. Eve Burt started working for her Tory husband Alistair Burt when he was first elected in 1983, took time off when they had small children, and has worked for him full time since 2001.

She joked: “Alistair said to me ‘what if I make you my living doll, darling?’ and I said ‘I don’t want to be anyone’s living doll at my age’.”

Some MPs have argued that working together makes it easier to stay married, in a profession where anti-social hours contribute to a notoriously high divorce rate.

Jean Hamilton, who the Midlothian constituency office for her husband, David, said: “I can understand that because it’s a very stressful job but if I told you that we have had our 40th wedding anniversary you’ll know that we’re in it long term.”

Sally Ainger, who runs the constituency office in West Carmarthen for husband Nick said: “When Nick has been in meetings all day he rings me at eight or nine about some constituency matter. I do weekend surgeries with him on Friday afternoon through to the evening, and Saturday morning. He wouldn’t want to ask somebody else to work those hours.

“There have been very few people who have abused the system to pay family members. It’s a classic case of the few spoiling it for the many.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links