Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Banning MPs' outside jobs would be bad for democracy

Mark Thompson's Mark Reckons blog is always thoughtful, well-written and interesting. He's certainly been one of the stars of the Lib Dem blogosphere over the past year. I really must get around some time to adding him to my blogroll, as well as one or two others like the cafe owner.

But (you knew there was a but coming, didn't you?) I think his posting today about stopping MPs from having outside interests is wrong. In a battle of the Marks, Mr Bureaucracy also takes issue with Mr Reckons. I largely agree with Mark V that it's none of our business, but I also have other concerns.

I want our parliaments to be composed of as wide a range of people as possible. If MPs were banned from having second jobs, I suspect the sort of people who get elected would become even narrower than they are already.

Mark Reckons does allow some exceptions, for people who have been directors of their own businesses who might wish to keep involved in the running of their firms. But if that's OK, why should a GP not be allowed to practise at least part-time? Given the vagaries of politics, they could be out of a job in a few years and face the prospect of either getting a new profession or having to undergo retraining to update their skills. Indeed, we've already had GP Howard Stoate deciding to stand down as an MP, as he feared new rules about second jobs would not allow him to continue to practise.

Or what about a journalist? Part of the job of a politician is to debate ideas and policies, which can be done through writing articles for the media. It seems rather unfair that a journalist who becomes an MP could continue to get paid for writing articles, but a GP couldn't continue to practise.

And if being a doctor or a journalist is also OK, why not a lawyer or a forex trader or an astrophysicist? By denying those people the right to continue to have paid outside interests, you're more likely to find they'll decide that standing for Parliament just isn't worth it in terms of the career sacrifice.

We already have a problem with politicians being drawn from an increasingly narrow section of the population, with student politics being followed by a job with an MP or a think tank, followed by election as a local councillor and then on into Parliament, and so on up the greasy pole. I want people in politics who have a wider experience of life than just politics. Stopping MPs from having paid outside interests would only make that problem much worse.


Mark Reckons said...

Hi Bernard.

Firstly, thank you for your kind words and for adding me to your blogroll.

I completely agree that we need a wide range of people within parliament but what I say is not incompatible with that. I just think the work experience should come before the MP reaches parliament.

I also agree with you that having MPs drawn from a very narrow field (you outline the standard route very well) is not a good thing but I think that is caused by something very different. I think selection committees for all parties should look very sceptically upon candidates whose experience has largely or completely followed the route you suggest and they should have the power to do this, not have candidates parachuted in or imposed from above. I think that sort of approach would help resolve that problem and the outside job issue is not particularly relevant to this.

As for doctors, journalists, lawyers etc. well what are we electing these people to do? I think unless there is major reform of what an MP does and the demands on his/her time then expecting them to be able to do multiple jobs to the best of their abilities in both (or all) cases is just not credible.

Frank H Little said...

I agree with Bernard. Turning MPs into elected employees of the state is thoroughly bad for democracy.

Stephen B said...

I feel that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with having two jobs as an MP or Lord but that the assumption should be that, in the case of the MP, the parliamentary role is deemed 'superior' to any other role. This would then mean that if the second job was causing the MP role to suffer, then the MP probably shouldn't be doing that second job.

Agree with both of you about the role of greasy pole place men though. I would add to your list that anyone with a recent background in political lobbying, PR or political administration should also be considered damaged goods. The problem is though that, when it comes to selection, it is often Hobson's choice - you get one viable 'political' person up for nomination alongside two nutters on their hobby-horses.

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