Another day, another set of stories about MPs and their side hustles. Today’s best/funniest/most enraging/all of the above (delete as applicable) is from Poppy Wood and Richard Vaughan in the i: Natalie Elphicke, the Conservative MP who told Marcus Rashford he should stick to his day job, has a second job as chair of the New Homes Quality Board (NHQB), an independent watchdog for new-build houses, for which she earns a cool £36,000 a year.
The Elphicke story is an example of another danger the side-gigs sleaze story poses for the Tories: that, among other things, it makes the MPs involved look a bit ridiculous – and by extension it makes the Conservative government look ridiculous. You can probably get away with looking corrupt, venal, hypocritical or mean, but it’s hard to carry off all of that “natural party of government” stuff if you also look silly.
How does the story end? Several MPs think that, if Xi Jinping and Joe Biden reaching a bilateral accord over climate change can’t knock the story off the headlines for one day, very little will, not least because the story keeps rolling. It will get a fresh lease of life when Conservative MPs are marched through the division lobbies to undo the vote they cast to defend Owen Paterson (and boy oh boy, you better believe they are just thrilled about that). And another when the standards committee presents its recommendations about changing how these things are policed.
The trouble for Boris Johnson – who the Financial Times‘s Jim Pickard and Kadhim Shubber calculate has earned more than £4m in outside earnings over the past 14 years – is that as far as his own MPs are concerned, he is sitting in a very large glass house where second earnings are concerned. The obvious button to press to bring this story to an end is a ban on outside consultancies and sharp limits on second jobs, full stop – something that would hit a lot of Conservative MPs in their wallets, and be a particular source of resentment given his own record.
Talk to Johnson’s closest allies and their calculation is that they can just ride out the story: there are only 365 Conservative entries in the register of interests and more than 650 days to the next election. Are they right? Well, as a plain calculation about the number of MPs and the number of days until the next general election, sure.
But what would worry me if I was in their shoes is the story that might well blow second jobs off the agenda: inflation. Even if the spike in inflation does prove to be transient, a painful 2022 may well be on the way for most households. And if the average voter finds themselves struggling to make ends meet while second-jobbing and other side hustles continue unabated in parliament, the political pain of the Paterson fiasco may have longer to run than Johnson and his associates believe.