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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Its Time To Ban MPs From Being Bought By Business

By now you will most likely be aware of the latest cash for access scandal. Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, both former foreign secretaries, caught in a sting operation by Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph. Both of them were caught on secret camera offering to sell their 'services' for cash to what they thought was a Chinese firm. Sir Malcolm suggested that he would be willing to write to ministers on behalf of the company without declaring the name of the firm. Mr Straw boasted that he operated "under the radar" in order to use his influence to change European Union rules on behalf of a commodity firm which pays him £60,000 a year. Straw also claimed to have used "charm and menace" to convince the Ukrainian Prime Minister to change laws on behalf of the same firm.
The implication is clear. MPs are currently accepting payments from business interests in return for using their connections to get policy changes both at home and abroad. 
None of this is illegal or is actually breaking the rules. That is the real issue here. It damn well should be. Not only is it venal and corrupt but also it means that whenever a government minister or MP gives his opinion on an issue which directly affects you, such as pensions, fuel bills, welfare, development, foreign policy and whether to go to war, you cannot be certain whether they are giving their own opinion or an opinion that has been bought by a powerful business interest.

What seems to have caused even more controversy is the sheer arrogance of Mr Straw and Mr Rifkind, as expressed in interviews yesterday. Neither has apologised because neither believes that their behaviour is in any way wrong. Mr Rifkind has resigned, I suspect because he was offered a metaphorical gun & glass of whisky and told to do the decent thing. He claimed that he is "self-employed" and "doesn't get a salary", despite his £67,000 salary as an MP. He claimed to have lots of free time and to spend it reading. Last year he registered £69,610 in 'outside earnings'. Mr Straw beat him though, raking in  £112,777 from his business interests.
It is time to end this kind of thing once and for all. Whichever party or parties win the election, it should be made a sacking offence for MPs to accept large payments from business interests for 'services rendered' or, to call a spade a spade, political prostitution. This does not have to include running a small family business or writing a book and so on. It should not be too difficult to work out a set of rules which are flexible enough to allow small scale activity while banning the big payments from outside businesses.
It may be necessary to increase MPs salaries and this would be very difficult to sell to the public. However I am going to be honest and say that this would be better than having MPs being 'up for sale' to whichever business wants to buy them.

What about me?

Well as a parliamentary candidate I would be more than happy with £67,000 a year. It is a massive increase on what I currently earn. That Mr Rifkind and Mr Straw seem to regard it as derisory shows them to be somewhat out of touch with the public to say the least. No wonder they find it difficult to empathise with cash strapped families.
If elected as Colchester's MP I guarantee that I will not take payments from business interests. If I did so I would expect to be driven out of the job.

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