There is nothing more agonizing for MPs than public discussions of their salaries and outside interests. Prime Minister mishandling the Owen Paterson case put these issues in the spotlight again. And now the discussion has turned to the topic of the second work.
When I was a deputy, I thought that the less I talk about it, the better. MPs are paid significantly more than most of their voters, and arguments for higher wages or existing freedom to earn more from outside interests will only attract negative attention. Now, as a former MP, it’s time to put on a tin hat and get down to business.
There have always been some who have argued that constituency membership should be a full-time job. Here I have to admit that most of my time as a member of parliament, most of the time I was awake, not as a deputy from a constituency, but in another role – as a minister. Of course, this significantly reduces the time available exclusively for working with voters, but most ministers are still able to satisfactorily serve their voters.
Similarly, there are relatively few complaints about MPs who spend their time as doctors, dentists, nurses, or even lawyers (although Jeffrey Cox opening that this patience depends on how many hours you have worked). It is beneficial for Parliament to have people with current experience in these areas.
The stronger objection is not so much about other actions that interfere with the time that should be spent on working with voters and parliamentary duties (like laziness, and how do you regulate this?), But how many potential or perceived conflicts of interest.
The attitude towards this issue will often depend on how someone views the Paterson case. Was this an exceptional case, both in terms of the nature of lobbying and its frequency, that was discovered and duly addressed (despite government efforts) by the parliamentary commissioner and parliamentary standards committee? Or was it just the tip of the iceberg and a symptom of widespread MP behavior? In my experience, this was the first.
But even if the deputies are not engaged in paid advocacy, he cites a counterargument, the very fact that a deputy is a servant of a commercial owner creates a feeling of a conflict of interest. One can understand why many people are now claiming this, and there is some momentum in favor of prohibiting such external interests. But I think this is a mistake.
What is the role of the deputy? They closely monitor legislation and the executive branch, fight for their constituents and their constituencies, local dignitaries, and defend their political parties. In addition, according to our system, a government is formed from our deputies. It is this task that we must bear in mind when deciding what to do with regard to deputies who have no interests.
Two questions come to mind. Is the existing cadre reserve of deputies sufficient for our need to ensure a sufficient number of highly qualified ministers from the government benches (plus, ideally, a sufficient number of quality alternatives from the opposition benches)? Can limiting external interests improve or worsen this situation?
On the first question, looking at the two front benches, not many will definitely say yes. As for the second question, I am afraid that strict restrictions on the existence of external interests will lead to the fact that talented people will refuse to become MPs and, if they become MPs, will leave parliament prematurely.
In recent years, it has already become so that many good MPs who left the government left parliament soon after, deciding to pursue their careers. If the option of harnessing some of the private sector opportunities is no longer available while retaining a seat in the House of Commons, perhaps in the hope of a subsequent return to the forefront, this trend will intensify.
It’s not just about money that can be resolved by a significant increase in wages (not that it would be an easy option from a political point of view). For many former ministers, the resurrection of the deputy sitting on the bench could be an anti-climax. Some find satisfaction as elected committee chairmen, but for others, getting involved in business is a welcome challenge. The role of a non-executive director (NED), for example, requires skills similar to that of a minister – providing strategic thinking to the organization; asking search questions to persons with operational responsibility; performance evaluation. Whatever the cost, the fact that I was an NED deputy when I was an opposition deputy became an invaluable experience for me when I became a minister.
In addition to the fact that potentially good ministers are reluctant to become or remain parliamentarians, this will lead to a decrease in the understanding of business in the House of Commons and an increase in the strength of the prime minister’s patronizing powers. The benefits of gaining a ministerial post and the cost of losing it will increase. At a time when the country could get by with several ministers who are ready to oppose the prime minister from time to time, this would not be desirable.
The Paterson case understandably sparked anger and increased suspicion on the part of outside interests. But the unforeseen consequences of the reform can lead to a decrease in the caliber of our deputies and ministers. Calls for change are loud, but things are already bad enough.