i Editor's Letter: £5,000 a day: the cost of buying an MP


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The Independent Online

So two former Foreign Secretaries get caught showing a bit of ankle at the first flutter of yuan. First, Jack Straw, who has been busy working  “under the radar”, promising to wield  influence with discretion for £5,000 a day. What about transparency and accountability? He told the fictitious  Chinese firm there had been speculation he might go to the House of Lords, where “I’ll be able to help you more”. So much for the peerage, Jack.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, meanwhile,  describes himself as “self-employed”,  news to his constituents. This is the chair of Parliament’s sensitive Intelligence and Security Committee. What the hell was he doing talking to a Chinese firm? What happens when Sir Malcolm reads intelligence that might be of interest  to a client? I don’t doubt his probity – but having many paymasters puts  him in an awkward position. It’s  undesirable that someone trusted with privileged access to intelligence  gathered by the British state should have multiple outside employers.

Do look behind the numbers: only a minority of MPs (180) engage in extracurricular earning. While MPs spent 26,600 hours on non-parliamentary duties, 9,000 of these  hours were racked up by just 10 men.

I’ve no philosophical objection to  paying MPs more, especially if there  were many fewer of them. They vote  on critical matters, are pilloried, and  many work hard for constituents or  country. But I don’t believe paying  them more will give us better MPs. Sir Malcolm’s argument that we need “members of Parliament [with]  some outside experience of the wider world” has merit – people who  understand business, industry, science, health, education, diplomacy, intelligence... But this scandal is not about gaining “experience”. This is quietly influencing public policy that affects millions of lives at the drop of a chequebook. It stinks.


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