Keir Starmer urged not to drop Labour policy banning MPs from second jobs

Pledge from 2019 manifesto has gone missing during Owen Paterson scandal

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 06 November 2021 12:24
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<p>MPs and campaigners have told Keir Starmer not to abandon the pledge </p>

MPs and campaigners have told Keir Starmer not to abandon the pledge

Keir Starmer has been urged not to ditch Labour's longstanding promise to ban MPs from having second jobs – after the policy went missing in action.

The opposition party had previously promised to restrict MPs taking outside employment – in a bid to clean up politics and prevent episodes like the Owen Paterson scandal.

But the Labour leader this week appeared to bin the promise – arguing instead only for a more limited jobs ban on those holding "ministerial office".

The broader pledge, which was first floated by Ed Miliband and expanded in the 2019 manifesto, was not mentioned by Labour frontbenchers responding to this week's events.

Since Thursday The Independent has repeatedly approached Sir Keir’s office and the Labour press office to clarify whether the policy has formally been dropped, but not received an answer.

Pushed on the matter, a Labour spokesperson would only say: "We'll be setting out our position in the debate on Monday."

But in an article for the Guardian this week Sir Keir laid out his position at length and listed "a number of simple things that could be done to clean up politics".

Among the policies, Sir Keir said he would "ban anyone who holds ministerial office from selling themselves to companies that want to write legislation in their own interests".

But the MP jobs ban policy was nowhere to be seen among the proposed remedies.

The policy banning MPs from having second jobs would have prevented Owen Paterson from being paid tens of thousands of pounds by companies he went on to lobby for in parliament. Sir Keir's commitment for those in "ministerial office" would have had no effect on the case, as Mr Paterson does not hold ministerial office.

One source suggested the leader did not feel he could commit to the longstanding policy because he had earned £70k working as a lawyer while an MP, including £30k while in the shadow cabinet.

Labour's most recent manifesto said: "We will stop MPs from taking paid second jobs, with limited exemptions to maintain professional registrations like nursing." In the 2015 manifesto the policy was to restrict “directorships and consultancies”.

Labour MP Nadia Whittome, who worked as a care worker during the Covid pandemic but donated the earnings to charity, told The Independent: “This government is so used to acting with impunity that it is now brazenly open in its attempts at institutional corruption.

"Now is the time to double down on our 2019 manifesto commitment that would ban MPs from having second jobs except where those jobs were for a public service, for example a nurse or carer."

She added that the policy should be "only the start" and argued that there needed to be a review of "the structural safeguards and checks and balances in place to guard against corruption". When she was elected Ms Whittome pledged to only take £35,000 of her £80,000 MPs’ salary, donating the rest to charity on the basis that she should be paid a workers’ wage.

Asked about the leadership’s move, MP Jon Trickett, who wrote the second jobs ban policy as shadow cabinet office minister, told The Independent: "It’s a bit complicated but the general principle ought to be that there ought to be no perception that outside financial interests influence MP actions. Labour – above all parties – should hold to this principle. This means not jettisoning the manifesto commitment."

According to figures reported by the OpenDemocracy website MPs have earned at least £6 million from second jobs since the start of the pandemic.

Andrew Scattergood, chair of left-wing campaign group Momentum, said trust in politicians was at an "all time low" and that abandoning the policy "would signal to the public an acceptance of a status quo that is rotten to the core".

"The case of Owen Paterson proves that the current rules do not work and tweaking them simply will not be enough," he said. "Politicians are extremely well-paid and they are there to serve the public only. It is absolutely right they should not have a second job, and Labour should continue to campaign for this popular policy."

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