MARK STEEL: DAVID CAMERON IS RIGHT.

mark steel
Mark Steel

MARK STEEL

Thursday 26 February 2015

Cameron is right — nothing keeps you in touch with the common person like being paid £5k a day

Without second jobs, will the Tories now try to raise the minimum wage to £67,000?

Members of Parliament should have second jobs, said David Cameron, to give them a “range of experience”, and keep them in touch with the common person. So that’s why they do the sort of second jobs they have, because nothing keeps you in touch with the common person as much as being paid five grand a day consulting an Arab bank.

At the end of a hard day’s consulting they think “how refreshing to spend a day with common chief executives and owners of oilfields, to hear the insights of a broad range of millionaires”. The alternative way to keep in touch with your constituents would be to spend time with your constituents, but they’re all aloof and hard to reach, especially if you’re travelling regularly to Dubai, so bollocks to them.

The Conservatives’ Peter Tapsell said allowing second jobs was essential, otherwise the House of Commons would be full of “obsessive crackpots”. And it’s the same with any job. You don’t want postmen obsessively delivering post all day like crackpots, so they should be encouraged to nip off after half an hour and earn eight grand for speaking at an arms fair, to make sure they have a range of experience.

In any case, as Malcolm Rifkind explained, it’s not possible to live in London on an MP’s salary of £67,000. This means when Rifkind passes a housing estate in Barking or Peckham, he must assume everyone he sees there earns more than £67,000, and if he finds out they’re on less than that, that they can’t be living. So it’s just as well he’s resigned as he must be under the impression that London has been taken over by zombies. No wonder he needs to earn as much as he can. He’s building himself an electrified underground bunker to withstand a flesh-eating apocalypse.

This suggests a radical turn in Conservative attitudes towards incomes. Presumably they will now insist that increasing the minimum wage to £8 an hour is ridiculous, as it’s not nearly enough and must be at least £67,000, plus benefits as that’s not enough to live on.

But the politicians who were filmed offering their influence for money want to transform more than Britain’s pay structure, because Rifkind and Jack Straw both say the programme that exposed them was unfair, as they wouldn’t have behaved that way if they had known they were being filmed. And this is a reasonable point, just as someone convicted of burning down a public building might say, “That’s not fair, because I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known I was on CCTV”.

They also maintain there was nothing underhand about the services they were offering. This may be true, and when Straw offered to work for a Chinese company, it never occurred to him that the reason they were interested in him was he could use his position to influence ministers. He thought they’d heard he was really good at filing. And when he said he charges between £5,000 and £8,000 for a speech, he never imagined companies pay that to get access to the Government. He gets that much because he does a hilarious impression of Saddam Hussein, and juggles with cauliflowers for an extra 50 quid.

But both of them boasted that their position as ex-Foreign Secretary would make it easy to introduce clients to ambassadors and ministers, for information and influence, in return for a fee. Neither of them sees anything wrong in this, maybe because anyone can do the same. So if you’re disabled and had your benefits stopped because Atos claimed you were fit for work, all you’d have to do is offer Rifkind £8,000 and he’ll slip you into a cocktail party to have a word with George Osborne and get it all sorted. What could be more democratic than that?

They also both insist they’ve done nothing dishonest. And again, they haven’t, as long as they can show that when they stood for election they put up billboards saying “The reason I want to be your MP is so I can charge eight grand a pop introducing people to ambassadors to take Britain forward”.

So David Cameron is right, and MPs having second jobs can only benefit us. He even complained that Ed Miliband’s proposal for preventing second jobs for MPs “would allow somebody to be a trade union official but it wouldn’t allow for someone to run a family business or a family shop”.

Precisely, because much worse than MPs using their position as consultants is the number of MPs who are also trade union officials. At the moment there aren’t any but what if there were? It’s all very well dealing with actual MPs actually charging thousands to corrupt their position, but what about the imaginary trade union ones who aren’t doing it because they don’t exist, which is typical of the slimy ways of the trade unions.

What if Father Christmas wanted to be an MP? Would we say he couldn’t, just because he had a second job, even though it brought him a range of experience? And now all we need is Tony Blair to complain that Jack Straw’s a disgrace because he should charge 10 times more, and Ed Balls to say whenever he pays for corruption, he always asks for a receipt for VAT, because that’s the straight kind of chap he is.