Labour warned yesterday that the voters of Tunbridge Wells would be "short- changed" if they voted for the Tory candidate Archie Norman at the next election - because the Asda chairman believes that being an MP is not a full-time job.
Mr Norman said in a pre-Christmas interview with the Yorkshire Post that for this reason he hoped to stay on as part-time chairman of the store group for another three years.
That provoked Labour campaign spokesman Brian Wilson to reply: "Most MPs find that constituency and parliamentary work add up to something more than a full-time job. The idea that you can also run a grocery chain is bizarre ... With an attitude like this, it would be no surprise if Tunbridge Wells decides to express its disgust."
Despite Mr Wilson's protestations, a significant minority of MPs do treat the Commons as a part-time place of employment. A number of former ministers who are standing down from Parliament at the next election have already taken up time-consuming and lucrative outside jobs, including Richard Needham, who has joined GEC, and Tristan Garel-Jones, who is advising the Union Bank of Switzerland, Biwater International, British Gas and BP Exploration.
But the part-time element is by no means confined to the Tory benches. Labour MPs are as prone as Tories, and others, to opt out of the routine parliamentary business of making speeches and asking questions.
An Independent analysis published in March 1990 showed that in the 1988- 89 Commons session, a total of 19 MPs were literally speechless in the Chamber. Six of those MPs were Labour, 10 were Tories and three were from minority parties.
Mr Norman, who hopes to succeed retiring Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew as MP for Tunbridge Wells, recently joked to Tatler magazine that after working flat out for five years at Asda, he hoped being an MP would, uniquely in his case, let him spend more time with his family.
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