Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 5 January 2009

William Hague's Outside Interests

I have been following the story about shadow cabinet "extra curricular activities" and in particular Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague's attempts to spin this fact in his favour.

He has claimed that pursuing outside interests makes him a better politician (see here). I have also heard others make the point that the end game of banning MPs from having outside interests is the sort of anodyne automatons you get such as David Milliband who have never done anything but politics. I do take this point to a certain extent. However I have to say that the way some of the shadow cabinet (including Hague) are behaving makes it look like they are not hungry for power. As an active campaigner myself, I know there are thousands of people in this country who would give their eye-teeth to be in a position where in 18 months time they have a reasonable chance of being in the cabinet and they would be doing everything in their power to prepare for that. Not swanning around giving after dinner speeches at £15K a pop.

Now I like William Hague, a lot. He is one of my favourite Tory politicians. I think he was dealt a terrible hand in acceding to the leadership when he did (although he was warned) and deserved a better result in 2001 than he got (although as he drifted to the right, forced by his rump of a party it was inevitable). He is a fantastic commons performer and seems naturally funny at the despatch box which you cannot say about most MPs. However he is damaging his party and politics in general by making it seem like it is not that important. Aspiring to the third greatest office in the country should not be trivialised in this way.

My view is that of course I want to see MPs with more rounded experience - indeed I have only just got involved at the age of 34 after many years in industry and having started and run my own business for several of them. However I feel this would be better achieved by encouraging local parties to ensure that having life experience was a more important part of the selection criteria for parliamentary candidates. Also, perhaps raising the age at which people can become MPs to ensure there will be more experience is an idea that I think warrants some debate. Overall I think the experience should come before the MP gets into parliament. Once he or she is there, they should be concentrating on the job. They still very much keep in touch with things on the ground through constituency work but a strong grounding through having had a non-political job for a number of years first (and by this I don't mean working as head of PR for Carlton TV!) will be a great foundation for most people aspiring to become MPs.

I am sorry to say that I do not buy Hague's "it makes us more rounded" argument. I think he is mainly doing it for the money and that saddens me. He will have plenty of opportunity to make money after he leaves office. Most senior politicians (especially of his calibre) can look forward to all kinds of non-executive directorships, speeches on the after-dinner circuit, money for memoirs etc. and a big fat parliamentary pension. They do not need loads of extra money earned whilst in office or parliament.

If Willaim Hague wants to prove me wrong, there is a simple way to do this whilst still maintaining what he claims is the necessary outside experience. I have not heard any commentator or interviewer suggest this but he could donate all the money he makes from these outside interests to charity.

I won't hold my breath though.

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