Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

MPs should not have outside jobs Mr Parris

Matthew Parris' article in the Times from Saturday this week suggests that MPs should be allowed to have outside jobs, it's just that too many of them have the wrong sort of outside job (by his definition that is things like Company Director, Barrister - i.e. the sort of job that is likely to give them experience of a rarified world that most do not inhabit). On the other hand he claims that MPs doing outside jobs like being a Doctor or participating in charity work are fine.

I am afraid I have to take issue with the redoubtable Mr Parris on this one. As I have mentioned before, I do not think MPs should have any significant outside job. I understand the argument that MPs need to have rounded experience of the outside world of work but I think that should come before they get into parliament, not whilst they are there. I accept that in order to have a decent cross-section in the house there will be younger members who will naturally have less experience but there will be plenty who will have had 10, 20 or even more years of experience in the outside world and doing "proper" jobs. For me, that is the key.

Also, as part of their standard duties MPs are kept in constant contact with their constituents and members of the public and should therefore be in touch with the issues of the day in this way.

MPs are (or should be) busy enough as it is without devoting some of their precious time to outside interests even if they would be worthy pursuits. Representing tens of thousands of people and holding the government to account is more than a full time job and I do not accept that MPs can be giving maximum attention to this if they are off doing other things part of the time.

I should just clarify what I meant above by "significant outside jobs". I understand that some MPs will be directors or owners of companies that they may have started before they became an MP and I would not expect them to completely abandon these. However input should be kept to a minimum and certainly any day-to-day operations stuff should not be their responsibility. But I do not think MPs should take on new directorships after they enter the house.

UPDATE: I thought this post might prove a little controversial and already a couple of other Lib Dem bloggers have voiced their opposition to my comments here. Lady Mark has done so here and Bernard Salmon here.


Voter said...

I agree with you.

I would suggest something else. MPs should not be paid 5000 pounds a year by organisations like the Caravan Club to push their cause.

If an MP thinks a cause needs addressing, then fine pursue it but no payment is required and such funding is bound to have MPs focusing on the wrong things

Timothy Wallace said...

Whilst I would rather my MP didn't spend too much time on a second job, its certainly not right to ban such behaviour.

Surely it is down to the constituents to decide? As long as the MP/candidate has been open about their intentions when elected, I can see nothing wrong with them doing outside work.

If you do think they should focus on being MPs, what do you propose to do about MPs who are promoted to senior government posts? They were elected to represent their constituents and then go off to become senior ministers with very little time to spend on their voters/local issues.

Mark Reckons said...

Timothy. Whilst the idea that the constituents could choose sounds good, in practise our electoral system makes that impractical. 70% of seats are safe and those MPs would within reason be able to do what they liked with little fear of their constituents doing anything about it. It would only be MPs in marginal seats who need to worry.

Also, what if both (or all) main candidates will have outside interests? What do the electorate in the seat do then?

I think your idea would only have merit in some sort of multi-member seat scenario where there would be enough breadth of candidates for this to be able to become a factor.

I agree that senior ministers and the PM cannot possibly represent their constituents as well as a back-bench MP. I am not sure what the answer is to that but just because that problem is there does not mean it should be further compounded.