Osborne's Job Grab Is Unedifying, But Career Politicians Aren't Much Better

20 March 2017, 11:03

George Osborne Unimpressed

David Mellor: George Osborne’s job grab is unedifying - but to use it as an excuse for a blanket ban on second jobs for MPs means packing the Commons with even more mediocrities.

Hard cases make bad law, they say.  And when it comes to second jobs for MPs they are right.

How George Osborne thinks he can edit the London Evening Standard, advise BlackRock for what most people will regard as an obscene amount of money, and serve his Cheshire constituents properly is beyond me.

There are conflicts of interest to be found everywhere, and Mystic Mellor predicts these arrangements won’t last.

But whether they do or not is surely a matter between Osborne, Theresa May, the Conservative parliamentary party and of course his constituency party, who may well think themselves short changed here - whereas George of course will have plenty of change!

It isn’t a matter for fundamental rule change, as advocated by a personage of whom, I confess, I had previously never heard; one Lord Bew, Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Lord Bew, a hitherto obscure Ulster academic, took to the airwaves this weekend to say on the back of Osborne’s many and various career changes that rules about MPs being allowed to have second jobs may have to be reconsidered.

Any jobs? Really. That’s way beyond the remit of his committee, or should be, and trenches upon long established constitutional principles, we will throw over at our peril.

An MP is elected by his constituents and is accountable to them. In the last analysis it will be for them to decide whether Osborne has time to represent them properly. It’s a matter for the House of Commons whether any of these jobs interfere with the proper conduct of his duties as an MP, but it’s not the job of the House of Commons, and certainly not the job of Lord Bew, to say any job, anytime, anywhere, should be ruled out.

Throughout the long history of Parliament, for most of that time, being an MP has been an act of public service, not a job, and certainly not a career. The full time politician is a relatively new entrant into the British Constitution stakes, and not always a welcome one.

The progression of inexperienced young people from university, to research jobs at Westminster, to a seat in Parliament, legislating without any experience of the world outside the Westminster bubble, is no more edifying than Osborne’s many jobs. And much more damaging, I would assert, to the principles of good government.

There’s actually no reason for MPs to be full time. There isn’t actually enough for them to do, particularly with the money they now have to employ staff to do their correspondence and casework etc. So if you want to see full time MPs in action, get an MP to take you around the bars of the Palace of Westminster after lunch, or onto the terrace, and there you will find a lot of them, boozing away, because they have nothing better to do.

The reality is that banning second jobs would make politics an even less attractive career than it is at the moment, when already many people with a choice, who might in past generations have gone into politics, no longer do so. It is unwise in the extreme to create a further impediment to ambitious people serving the nation, whilst also taking some time to protect their own interests. No one gives a thought to what an MP does after he/she is defeated. Trying to pick up the threads of a career in middle age isn’t easy, and shouldn’t be made more difficult.

Over the weekend IDS likened Osborne to Gordon Gekko of "greed is good" fame. If only IDS had been so snappish when he was Tory Leader, he might have made a better fist of it! But leave that where it is.

Osborne deserves a lot of the opprobrium he’s getting, though much of it, I suspect, is more about jealousy than anything more principled. However the former Chancellor should not be used as a reason to stop honourable members, perfectly honourably, pursuing honourable outside interests if they so choose.
Parliament will get worse, not better, if that happens.