MPs should treat their job as a full-time occupation

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The Independent Online

In all the debate that has taken place since the general election about how to reinvigorate our democracy, many grandiose and radical proposals have been put forward.

In all the debate that has taken place since the general election about how to reinvigorate our democracy, many grandiose and radical proposals have been put forward. Making voting compulsory, proportional representation, voting by e-mail, democratic reform of the House of the Lords, encouraging Tony Blair to submit himself to a Commons Select Committee – all these and more have been mentioned as ways to make our democracy more effective and, thus, more respected.

There is much to be said for some of these proposals, although on their own none of them would transform our democracy, and most are difficult to implement swiftly. Yet there is one small, straightforward step that could be taken by parliamentarians now to counter the depressingly widespread sentiment that "they are only in it for themselves".

Peter Bradley, the Labour MP for The Wrekin, is presenting a Bill to the House of Commons which would prevent MPs from taking "second jobs", the sort of lucrative activity "on the side" that may well provide an MP's income, but which has landed too many of them in trouble and generally reduced the prestige of Parliament. Some 24 per cent of members enjoy such parallel careers.

The pressures on an MP – if he or she is doing the job conscientiously – are very great. Many backbenchers must sometimes feel that they are not much more than superannuated social workers. Such efforts should not allow any time for extra-curricular commercial activity. Parliamentarians should be given adequate recompense for their efforts and all the support they need to do their job properly. But in return we are right to expect that they should put their parliamentary duties first and last.

The leisurely Edwardian style of the barrister-MP spending his mornings in court and afternoons in the House is long past, and it is not too much to ask that modern MPs adjust their habits and attitudes accordingly. MPs should take heed of the example of Suma Chakrabarti, the new permanent secretary at the Department of International Development, who will do all he needs to in 40 hours a week, with alternate Fridays spent working from home. There is simply no need for MPs or civil servants to connive in a silly macho culture of long hours

Of course, Mr Bradley's sensible little measure has no chance of becoming law but sooner or later our MPs will have to put their house in order and win back our respect.

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