Cash for access scandal claims two scalps

Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw: failed the ‘smell test’

The latest cash for access scandal involving two former foreign secretaries, Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, has reinforced voters’ disillusionment with the political establishment. Both men deny wrongdoing and have referred themselves to the parliamentary commissioner for standards. Both have been suspended by their parties.

Rifkind is standing down as chairman of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee and as Conservative MP for Kensington.

It is hard to imagine two politicians “less likely to be duped or less deserving of association with scandal”, says Rachel Sylvester in The Times. But even if neither MP has broken any parliamentary rules, the whole episode – they came across on Channel 4’s documentary programme Dispatches as “grasping grandees willing to sell their contacts books, if not their souls, for £5,000” – fails the “smell test”.

Most people will struggle to comprehend Sir Malcolm’s statement that “nobody pays me a salary” when he receives more than £67,000 from the taxpayer as an MP, and feel astonished to learn that he has ample time for reading and walking.

It is often those in safe seats who find they have enough time to take on two jobs, says Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, in The Guardian. Many of the rest of us work night and day to get through our work at Westminster as well as our constituencies.

We should seize this opportunity to make our system more open and trustworthy. Outside work should be the exception not the rule (say, doctors, who need to retain vital skills). Part-time consultancy work is out.

Labour leader Ed Miliband is right to propose a ban on MPs taking outside directorships and consultancies, says Sylvester. He also wants a strict cap on outside earnings for all MPs. #

While politicians benefit from outside experience, there is a difference between bringing knowledge of being a doctor or teacher to the House of Commons, and MPs “taking the knowledge and contacts gained in Westminster to benefit private companies – and themselves – in the outside world”.

But are British MPs paid enough? According to 2013 data from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, earnings compare “unfavourably” with their counterparts in Australia, America, Canada, Italy and Scandinavia.

However, German, French and Spanish MPs all earn less. Last year, according to The Daily Telegraph, MPs’ declared outside earnings totalled more than £7.4m. Some 180 MPs have second jobs, of which 112 are Tory MPs and 43 are Labour. This may explain David Cameron’s opposition to a ban on outside jobs, says the Financial Times.

The solution is twofold, says The Times. First, we need to pay more: £67,000 is “far less” than successful professionals earn. Westminster could “shed at least 100 MPs” and make each constituency bigger. Secondly, a distinction must be made between “external work that brings valuable experience to parliament, and covert lobbying”.

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