Anyone sensible would have spent this morning glued to England’s stunning victory in Pakistan. Apparently, this excludes Sir Keir Starmer and Gordon Brown – the political equivalent of Riwalpindi’s lifeless pitch – who this morning addressed the launch of Labour’s new report on constitutional reform: A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy.
I shall leave most of the proposals from Islington’s blandest and Kirkcaldy’s dourest to be incinerated by our Deputy Editor at a later date. Today, I’ll focus on one in particular: the oft-trailed proposal that MPs should be banned from having second jobs. The policy is quintessentially Labour. Not in promoting the interests of the working-class – how gauche – but because it embodies the Opposition’s grand history of sounding noble whilst proposing something actively harmful to the national interest.
During the Paterson hoo-ha last year, Labour gained a few positive write-ups by calling for a clampdown on MPs’ outside incomes. The Commons Standards Committee chose against placing such a restriction. For Starmer, Labour has a grand opportunity to pose against dodgy Tories with directorships and consultancy gigs.
Leaving aside the hypocrisy of Opposition frontbenchers like David Lammy and Jess Philips pocketing tens of thousands from speaking gigs and newspaper columns – or Starmer himself making a bob or two from legal work before he became Labour leader – this plan falls down on sheer vagueness. What do Labour actually mean by second jobs?
The report calls for a limited exception for “employment required to maintain professional memberships” – good news for any medics (or ambulance-chasers) on the Labour benches. But this exception does not seemingly extend to Lammy going on LBC. One can fail to share the sadomasochistic desire of our leftie friends to use their free-time listening to the former holder of Mastermind’s lowest ever score whilst worrying about a world in which MPs are constrained to do almost nothing outside the confines of Westminster.
Firstly, allowing MPs to have other roles – whether that involves sitting on boards, writing columns, or working with think-tanks – allows them to bring wider experience into politics. Secondly, it allows them to supplement their incomes to an extent that stops them from sodding off to the private sector. Being an MP is a torrid job for people who can garner more money and less hate in finance or the law. Starmer’s ban would further dilute the quality of the Commons.
Labour’s proposals also fail to understand the nature of the MP’s role. It is not a normal occupation – most remarkably in the need for MPs to serve simultaneously as ministers. A task, one imagines, that is a little more time-consuming than attending a board meeting a few times a year.
Starmer would know. He may not (yet) have garnered a Red Box. But he is the Leader of the Opposition, as well as the MP for Holborn and St Pancras. He earns a tidy extra £65, 181 for that. What does he think makes him so special that he can do two jobs when others can’t?