Can Parliament stoop any lower?

Events, dear boy, events, can make so much difference to the best planned campaigns. The last thing Mr Brown wanted was media coverage of the claims of former Cabinet Ministers about how they could lobby, influence policy or appointments, all for a mere £3000 to £5000 a day. That, however, is what he has got.

The government machine moved smoothly to limit the damage. Miss Harman assured the Commons that no currently serving Minister or official had done anything wrong. Former Ministers had not succeeded in influencing policy for private gain. We could relax. All was well. The issue was left unanswered as to why at least one former Minister suggested they could or had, and what if anything should be done about that.

The short term damage is to Labour, but Parliament as a whole will once again suffer. I have always thought the best way to lobby to change policy or to pursue an interest is through the cosnttiuency MP in the way the system is intended to operate. A company or individual that wants its case heard by government can ask the local MP to represent them, to arrange a meeting for them or to ensure written representations are considered by the Minister. The service is free, and the MP will decide whether to back his constituent with his own voice as well or just ensure a hearing for their case. What’s more, it’s a free service to the constituent.


  1. Mick Anderson
    March 23, 2010

    Presumably those who would pay these MPs subscribe to the theory that "you get what you pay for", and a free service from the local MP would be worthless. Perhaps they also assume that a Minister would have more clout than a mere back-bencher in the game-changing stakes, especially if the latter is not of the governing party.

    If non-politicians were caught out like this, it would be summary dismissal and prosecution. Until the same applies to all the expenses-fiddlers, home-flippers and "cabs for hire" within SW1, the Electorate are simply going to believe that until the hypocrisy can be engineered out of Parliament, nothing is going to change. Withdrawing the Whip is not enough – the minimum for justice is an immediate bye-election and Police investigation.

    An eventual General Election is not enough. We need the fabled "court of public opinion" to have real teeth – and preferably a gallows, too.

  2. Grumpy Optimist
    March 23, 2010

    Ah John – what a simple man you are. You cam never trust your MP if rewsal money and preferment is at stake.
    My feeling is that corruption of this kind is now endemic in the system – and the primary reason? Well because so many livelihoods now depend, directly or indirectly on the decisions and spending of the central administration. The metaphor that springs to mind is like the flies buzzing around a bright light.

  3. Stuart Fairney
    March 23, 2010

    I found Mr Byers defence of his own claims quite remarkable, Mr Brown's hiding behind the cabinet secretary true to form and Mrs Dromey's speech (I am aware this is moderated so let's say) lacking credibility.

  4. idonotbelieveit
    March 23, 2010

    Hi John,

    I think the most shocking revelation was Hoon apparently attempting to (earn money-ed) through advising American firms which european defence companies to target for acquisition.

    Not even a hint of action for the country's, or any of it's companies, good here!!

  5. Andy Hoff
    March 23, 2010

    Absolutely right. The minute you allow any person or group to purchase any influence whatsoever democracy suffers. Paid lobbying should be outlawed totally. If all such issues were put through the local MP it would be fairer and would probably result in the MP being more respected.

  6. oldrightie
    March 23, 2010

    How much has 13 years of sidelining Parliament via Downing Street and Brussels played a part in the downfall of Westminster democracy, standards and decency, I wonder?

  7. gac
    March 23, 2010

    Lord Adonis said that he had discussions with Byers but there was no deal at all, nor would he have sanctioned one. So that is OK then.

    Lord Mandy said that he had had no discussions about food labelling with Byers at all.

    1. Mark
      March 23, 2010

      I have long learned that with Mandelson you have to listen to exactly what he claims, and then think how the substantive point may still be true at the same time as the denial. Perhaps in this case there was an intermediary in discussions, or instead of "discussions" (which might imply speech) there was an email exchange – or perhaps Byers really did imagine it all himself.

      1. APL
        March 24, 2010

        I" have long learned that with Mandelson "

        Ah yes, (mandelson-ed) he speak with forked tongue.

  8. alan jutson
    March 23, 2010

    In answer to your question can Parliament stoop any lower.

    Probably yes.

    It would seem that there is no end to the ways in which an Mp can enlarge their personal finances.

    Yes we had the lobby question last night, and it has been given plenty of publicity in todays papers, but before that on another station, we had the conferences abroad jolly, where in exchange for a few questions in the House about the selected holiday venue/Country, those selected MPs can have an all expenses paid short holiday paid for by the Country in question.

    As more and more of these financial ploys become exposed, it becomes more and more obvious that MPs should be subject to exactly the same tax rules as the rest of us.

    Clearly the right of many serving Mp's (not all) to call themselves honourable is now a sick joke.

    Let us pay fixed salaries to MPs, have allowable expenses (with receipts for everything) overseen by the HM Revenue and Customs Policy which applies to the rest of us.
    Benefits in kind should also be taxed at the appropriate rate.

    MPs do not need second homes, they just need comfortable overnight accomodation for themselves, which should be provided for them by the state, be it hotel room or a block of one bedroom appartments.

    Yes MPs can have second jobs just as we all can, providing it does not interfere with their ability to serve, and represent their constituants and Country, and they pay tax like the rest of us have to.

    The recent expenses report seems to still allow Mps to be a special case, exempt of many of the restraints and tax policy which the rest of us have to abide by. So until you are treated exactly the same as any other Company employee, and the rest of us, then poor publicity will follow you all around, and the bad apples will taint you all.

    Euro Gravy train another question, another problem.

  9. Antisthenes
    March 23, 2010

    Yet another case of how corrupt our politician have become. If it had been an isolated case then it could be just shrugged off because you will always get a few bad apples in a barrel. However it is becoming increasingly apparent that whole barrel is rotten. What is not so apparent is that this is not just a Westminster phenomena it infests all sections of society.

    You only have to have a schoolboy's grasp of history to know what this portends. The end of empires and civilisations in the past have all shown this same symptom, of course debased morals and standards do not on there own cause a collapse. It is necessary to have economic instability, throw in uncontrolled immigration, debilitating wars and hostile relations with your neigbours.

    For the Conservatives if they win the election they have a much greater challenge facing them than they realise.

  10. Y Rhyfelwr Dewr
    March 23, 2010

    "Miss Harman assured the Commons that no currently serving Minister or official had done anything wrong."

    So Commerce hands over thousands of pounds a day to no less than four former cabinet ministers, and doesn't expect them to deliver? What is it with this government that assumes the public is stupid?

    It seems a long time ago that the Tories were in serious trouble over Ashcroft. It was always predictably unwise for Gordon to hold out till the last moment to call the election — given his government's catastrophic history for cock-ups and own-goals, it was inevitable that yet another disaster would turn up sooner or later.

    He had a good run of luck, but that's over now. So late in the campaign, he would have been sensible to pretend to take it seriously. Instead, he seems to still have confidence in his ability to pull the wool over the public's eyes, although he still has not been forgiven for suggesting that he wouldn't have called an election three years ago even if the polls had suggested a Labour majority. Nobody believed him then, and this isn't going to wash either. As damaging as these allegations are, Harridan Harpic's made them worse.

    Reply: On this occasion it was a sting – they were not going to get £5000 a day!

  11. Yudansha
    March 23, 2010

    The expenses scandal still hasn't gone away, you know. I get the feeling that Parliamentarians think it has blown over, but I can assure you it hasn't.

    Now this happens. the real problem is that no-one is surprised anymore. Such is the lack of confidence in politicians. The Tories were lucky enough to get wind via an honourable member and a heads-up was put out – you and I know that there would otherwise have been Tory scalps too.

    The crisis which we now face (and the BA dispute is a very good example) is that we have a country in desperate need of cuts and sacrifices and yet those at the top – bankers and politicians – are in no position to lecture us on this. In fact they will be howled to high heaven if they dare try it. The damage to authority over recent years has been incalculable. Unionised, professional, middle-class labour (your natural supporters) are going to look at bankers and politicians and tell them where to get off. I see blue and white collar riots ahead.

    The problem started when people who failed or transgressed were no longer required to resign. This damaged the integrity of our institutions. The fault lies with the good men who did nothing. They are now tarnished along with the cheats – sadly (because at heart they are nice) they deserve it.

  12. Simon D
    March 23, 2010

    Politics is now a middle class left-liberal public sector career option. As in other spheres you must manage your climb up the greasy pole. Serious beliefs are optional and can well be a disadvantage. The ability to spin is essential. The need to catch the eye of Mr. Mandelson, Team Cameron or Clegg-Huhne is of critical importance.

    On the left you begin as a student Marxist and move into internship/research. BBC journalism or PR or union connections are also good options. Membership of Unite is the equivalent of going to Eton. Experience of the real world is not relevant. Once in Parliament you must maximise your income to take account of the fact that compared with other parts of the public sector the pay is low and the job security non-existent.

    The true reason the public are alienated from all this is the political glass ceiling – not expenses or making money out of lobbying. The glass ceiling exists to ensure that politicians and the mainstream media keep a tight grip on public discourse to ensure that only acceptable versions of political correctness are allowed – New Labourspeak, LibDemspeak and Cameronlite. Anybody who says the 'wrong thing' (e.g. that our relationship with the EU needs serious modification or that the UK should control its borders or that the UK should get out of Afghanistan or that the NHS is not the envy of the world is immediately spun as a racist, lunatic, fascist, fascist Tory, Daily Mail reader or right wing bigot etc. etc.

    If you live in Scunthorpe with a family trying to get by on the UK average wage you are on a different planet to the Metropolitan/Home Counties political and media classes. You instinctively know that such classes despise you in the same way that Victorian aristocrats despised the lower middle class. No wonder the public (most of whom are excluded from but paying for the public sector party going on in south east England and its equivalents) is fed up with it all.

  13. Brian Tomkinson
    March 23, 2010

    The whole panoply of government has been corrupted. Those caught in this undercover operation seemed to know very well the going rate for buying influence and that influence was clearly not just confined to cabinet ministers. We are now expected to believe that they just made it all up or were exaggerating. No doubt there are others who were to wily to be entrapped or weren't on the investigators radar. Greed is at the base of this. Is it any wonder that there are so many people who want to be MPs even though their contemporaries bemoan their salary levels? The salary and the pension and the expenses look like the icing on the cake, along with the fully paid overseas trips which many apparently fail to declare. We are prepared now to expect any kind of impropriety from politicians but we are not prepared to accept it. We have been not only brought to the verge of national bankruptcy but also to the virtual destruction of our parliamentary democracy.

  14. moulin à paro
    March 23, 2010

    Can Parliament stoop any lower?
    Don't hold your breath, Mr Redwood.
    I'd guess that there are lots of
    revelations still to come out.
    I'd have the place boarded up or pulled down
    if there were a De Gaulle around
    in Britain to put a stop to the
    "chienlit" that stinking cesspit has become.

  15. no one
    March 23, 2010

    ah but you are a decent MP many folk dont have that luxury

  16. William Grace
    March 23, 2010

    Oh John, your an MP, you must know a colleague or two who is much much lower than a slug. Thing is, you'll never rat them out.

  17. Daniel
    March 23, 2010

    In theory, your argument makes sense. However, it negates the influence of paid outside interests affecting the impartiality of an MP when making decisions.

    In practice, the only way forward is for all MPs to be banned from making any money, in whatever capacity, whilst MPs. The salary of £69k is for a full-time role. If any of you feel that this is insufficient for your lifestyles then I suggest that you either reduce your lifestyles accordingly, or give up your role as an MP and move into something more in alignment with your financial aspirations. There are plenty of people who would happily take on the role for the given money. It is very much a case of take it or leave it.

    However, it is entirely unacceptable for MPs to effectively moonlight, irrespective of whether this is legitimate under the current rules. I notice, for instance, that you have (earned money) last year from your various outside interests. I am sure that you have been entirely honest in your dealings and that this is all above board and legitimate as the rules stand. Nonetheless, outside earnings cannot be right or acceptable from an ethical perspective. By earning or receiving additional incomes, payments, shares or hospitality from any outside party, an individual's impartiality is necessarily compromised, irrespective as to whether this is declared or not.

    Furthermore, all MPs should also be prohibited from financially benefiting from their political associations for a period of 10 years after leaving parliament. This would prevent any individual profiteering off the back of their time as an elected representative.

    Reply: My impartiality and hard work as an MP is in no way affected by my business interests, which are based on skills and experiences I had before I became an MP and have absolutely nothing to do with my role as MP.

  18. Steve Cox
    March 23, 2010

    Hmm. Looking back, I was always highly suspicious of why Stephen Byers seemed to deliberately destroy Railtrack. A quick Google produces quotes such as:

    "…Stephen Byers was "politically hostile" to Railtrack."

    (Suggests people take a closer look at the end of Railtrack and Mr Byers motives and role)

  19. Lindsay McDougall
    March 23, 2010

    I have long favoured a system of higher basic salaries for MPs and much tighter control of expenses. If this happened, behaviour like this could be suppressed.

    Two of the ex-Ministers involved recently suggested a Labour leadership election to 'clear the air', presumably with the intention of replacing one charlaton ………… with another.

    1. Kevin Peat
      March 23, 2010

      Are you sure ? You'd have to pay more than £5000 a day.

      What happened to plain old integrity ?

      1. Lindsay McDougall
        March 24, 2010

        No, I am not sure, but we pay judges a high salary for a similar reason – to ensure that there is no need for corrupt behaviour. Better safe than sorry.

  20. A Griffin
    March 23, 2010

    There are always rotters in every institution but what distinguishes this period of Labour government is the extent to which rot has replaced goodness in all walks of life. A starving child eats off a bird table and no one can save her. An experienced doctor is told to organize work in a target driven way which means that they may ' first do harm to patients' . A banker can make millions by lending money to people who could never pay it back. A prime minister says there are weapons of mass destruction where there are none. The once beloved state broadcaster becomes the mouthpiece of the state and not the people. We are brainwashed, emasculated, dumbed down and our institutions as well as society are broken. The economy is in chaos and savings are losing value. Two overiding images from the last week which say it all for me are the mundane way in which an ex-minister talks about a daily pay rate of £3000 to £5000 and how happy and joyfull BA strikers look on their picket line . The poor voter is nauseated by the behaviour of the ruling elite and will want a fresh start and a new beginning.

  21. pipesmoker
    March 23, 2010

    A lot of mugs with more money than sense!

    Puts Neil Hamilton's alleged little brown envelopes into perspective?

  22. Tony
    March 23, 2010

    The lobbying of MP's is big business and has been for many years. I have always thought it totally undemocratic. Additionally New Labour MP's are sponsored by companies and associates, for example the Co-operative Society has nineteen MP's, and Unite has 100 plus MP's in their pocket. These people aren't spending money for any other reason than to ensure favorable returns. This is verging on the criminal and should be stopped.

  23. Alan Wheatley
    March 23, 2010

    I largely agree. The MP free service should work just fine in most cases. But there can be problems.

    What if your company makes a product upon which your MP has a strong and well known point of view? A favourable view would lead you to believe your representation will be forwarded with a favourable endorsement. But what if your MP is dead against. For instance, suppose your company makes waste incineration equipment and your MP is an environmental campaigner with a principled objection to such plant?

    It does seem that if your MP is the only conduit then it is down to chance as to what support you will receive, or at least believe your will receive.

    Thinking about such things in the past it struck me that there needs to be an alternative, and the obvious one would be through the Lords. As none of those sitting in the Lords have a constituency link, and many have expertise in particular areas, it seems to me sensible that it should be possible for every constituent to approach any peer as an alternative to their MP.

  24. Richard
    March 23, 2010

    It will be interesting to see whether the BBC and other anti-Conservative media give this scandal the prominence it deserves in the coming days. Imagine if former Conservative ministers in the 1990s had done this! We would never have heard the end of it. Of course there must be a full investigation as to whether public policy has been changed – and taxpayers financially disadvantaged (in the case of the transport franchise) – at the behest of former Labour ministers who have been paid for lobbying by the beneficiaries of the policy change. If the Government refuses to do this, the Conservatives (or perhaps an independent supporter) should consider taking this matter to court.

    1. Norman
      March 23, 2010

      I had the misfortune to hear the BBC headline on radio tonight. You'd have thought the main villain of the last couple of days was Liam Fox (I kid you not).

      The article ran like this: Quick intro saying 3 ex-Ministers caught with hands in the till, no more than 20 seconds. Then a long piece coming straight off the back of this where they said the BBC had discovered 20 MP's from all parties who had taken overseas visits and not declared them. They highlighted one MP only, for a good 2 minutes, poor Liam Fox who, apparently, has taken 5 trips to Sri Lanka on the Sri Lankan government dollar and not declared two of them. I was waiting for the BBC to start accusing him of being actively involved in repurcusions against Tamil civilians but they never went that far.

      Then there was a 20 second wrap up where everything was mixed in again. I was left with the impression that the man who has done most wrong in all this is Liam Fox, I can't recall if they even mentioned the Labour MP's involved.

      A lucky thing for Labour the BBC was breaking this story at the same time, wasn't it?

      I really don't know if I should be wearing a tin foil hat or if the BBC really are as biased as they are coming across as.

  25. StevenL
    March 23, 2010

    Imagine rank and file public servants applied these kind of ethical standards to lining their pockets?

    "As a trading standards officer I've built up quite a good knowledge of scams, the sort of people that fall for them, quite bluntly I'd like to turn this into some cash"

    "As a customs official I have built up quite a good knowledge on the best ways to smuggle cigarettes, quite bluntly I'd like to turn this into some cash"

    etc etc

  26. Frugal Dougal
    March 23, 2010

    I like the way to deal with lobbyists described by Tom Clancy in Executive Orders: put an egg-timer on the desk…

  27. no one
    March 23, 2010

    Raises issues about Patricia Hewitt and her links with Bt and her Parliamentary activities.

  28. Brian Tomkinson
    March 23, 2010

    Was my earlier comment too near the mark to be printed?

  29. Javelin
    March 23, 2010

    Scummy but not scum.

    MPs need to be regulated from the outside.

    But this is just the start. The whole public sector is full of troughers. Why should any public sector worker earn more than the MP.

    There needs to be a ceiling to public sector workers. Most public sector workers are hard working. But the scum – sorry scummy – float to the top.

  30. Paul from MK UK
    March 23, 2010

    Y Rhyfelwr Dewr (Brave Warrior) quoted Harman as saying that current Government Ministers and officials had done nothing wrong.

    Just like the expenses scandal, however, this rather depends on which definitions of right and wrong or rules you are using.

    The dispatches programme features David Cameron pointing out that there's another set of rules (on lobbying) which need urgent attention and it would seem the sooner the better.

  31. AndyC
    March 24, 2010

    Does anyone else find it a very odd coincidence that the three Labour MPs caught in this way are all some of the most high profile ex-ministerial critics of the current Prime Minister?

  32. Eustajoh
    March 24, 2010

    It would be interesting to know how the Digital Economy Bill introduced by Lord Mandelson came to take it's current form.

  33. John Prescott impers
    March 25, 2010

    I have a good idea, why not do away with Westminster and just have the EU and regional Governments.

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