Dominic Lawson: What's wrong with MPs having jobs outside Parliament?

Mr Brown genuinely believes that a full-time political class is a good thing
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The Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath appears to disapprove of Parliamentarians who do not devote themselves entirely and exclusively to the service of their constituents. He has instigated a rule, coming into force tomorrow, which requires MPs to reveal how much time they spend on "second jobs" and how much they are paid for this additional work. As a result, all of David Cameron's shadow cabinet are now relinquishing their other jobs, rather than allow themselves to be seen as "part-time MPs".

It is all a bit rum, since the member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has a tremendously demanding second job, one which must leave him very little time to devote to the particular needs of his constituency: he moonlights as Prime Minister, in return for an additional salary, above his MP's pay, of £132,923. In America, or France, the head of the executive is not allowed to retain his seat in the legislature: we do not demand the same division of responsibilities.

Gordon Brown, if asked to defend his arrangement, would presumably argue that his work as Prime Minister is entirely dedicated to the public good, a mere extension of his duties as an MP. In fact, remarkably little of what he does as Prime Minister impacts directly (for good or ill) on his constituents, since so much of the legislation governing Scotland now emerges from Edinburgh, not Westminster.

Perhaps it is because they believe that they will soon be occupying the Government benches that the Conservatives have not challenged Mr Brown on this basis. Otherwise they must surely have pointed out that for a very long time Government ministers were not allowed to draw pay as MPs on the obvious grounds that ministerial office "impinged on the individual's ability to undertake the full range of an MP's parliamentary duties."

From 1831 until 1965, ministers were allowed to receive no more than £750 of their parliamentary salary; and it was not until 1996 that they were allowed to draw their full parliamentary pay. This was based on the apparently sudden discovery that even though it had been shown that the average amount of time that ministers were able to devote to constituency work had actually declined over the years, their responsibilities to their constituents were the same as ordinary backbenchers.

It is true that the new rule dreamt up by Mr Brown does not prevent MPs from having paid outside jobs while drawing a full parliamentary salary – it merely makes it obligatory to publish all of the details of additional emoluments. This, however, is seen as potentially most embarrassing by David Cameron – just as Mr Brown intended. For a lot of senior Tories have a fine collection of non-executive directorships, the sort of jobs which pay around £30,000 in return for attending one meeting a month.

In fact it was more than six months ago that Mr Cameron tried to railroad his shadow cabinet into giving up all their outside jobs: ever sensitive to the charge of being no more than a rich dilettante, the Tory leader wanted his entire team to be seen as dedicated to the common weal for every waking moment of their existence. William Hague, who makes a pretty good whack on the after-dinner speaking circuit, and has a bullish Yorkshireman's idea of his own worth, was having none of it. So Cameron backed down.

The public's fury over MPs' abuse of allowances has played into Cameron's hands, however. Thus the Tory leader was able to declare yesterday that "my shadow Cabinet have recognised that we are in a particular period at the end of a five-year parliament where it does become necessary to demonstrate 100 per cent focus on parliament and politics ... so they've decided that from the end of December they won't have any outside interests."

I love Cameron's "they've decided", barely audible above the sound of the grinding teeth of his shadow cabinet colleagues. Two thoughts will have set their jaws in motion. First, that David Cameron, being from a long line of very successful stockbrokers, has substantial private means; and second, that apart from the Opposition Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip, the Party leader is the only member of the shadow cabinet in receipt of a public-sector salary over and above his parliamentary pay.

Thus it is that the Independent News and Media Group (publishers of the paper you are now reading) will be denied the services of Mr Kenneth Clarke. The shadow business secretary had been paid £38,000 a year for giving some of his time to The Independent. If you are one of those scandalised by the idea of MPs having outside interests, then you will regard Mr Clarke's resignation from the board of The Independent as an act which will bring unquantifiable benefits to the public. I can't see it, myself.

Similarly, the Tory shadow transport minister Robert Goodwill runs a cemetery on his farm, and digs the occasional grave therein. Here too, I do not share the joy that some clearly derive from the thought of Mr Goodwill no longer engaging in some extra-parliamentary burying of bodies, paid or not.

One of the great virtues of MPs having outside interests is that they potentially have the courage and independence that comes from not being financially dependent entirely on the goodwill of their party leader, via the unwilled generosity of the taxpayer. If you are one of those who celebrated the ousting of Margaret Thatcher, ask yourself whether it was entirely a coincidence that her nemesis, Michael Heseltine, is a man who knew that his and his family's welfare was not dependent on the then Prime Minister's state-funded patronage.

Instead we will have a Parliament which will become even more skewed towards those whose entire being is as a creature of a political party. Thirty years ago only three per cent of MPs said that their previous career was as "a political organiser" ie party apparatchik. By 2005, 14 per cent of MPs gave this as their bleak answer.

This is what Mr Brown wants: a political party comprised of those who have no life but the party, which of course is always right. Mr Brown may have slewed off the socialism of his youth, but he has not fallen out of love with the so-called "democratic centralism" as set out by Comrade Lenin.

Mr Brown genuinely believes that a full-time political class is a good thing – and indeed, the more of them, and the more assemblies, the better, which is why his native Scotland now has more political representatives per inhabitant than any territory in the Kingdom. Are they not a fortunate people? It can only be ingratitude which prevents them from being the happiest of all nations.

What most people want from our MPs is that they are truly representative of us, their electors (while also being of good character, which is not exactly the same thing). This is much more important than whether or not they are paid for giving advice to newspaper groups, or digging graves. So here is my own modest suggestion: they should be self-employed in the full sense of the word, and finance their pension in the way most of the rest of us have to, without gold-plated guarantees from the state. Somehow, I don't see the member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath agreeing to that.

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