Earlier this week Tory MP Douglas Ross was revealed to be missing a key Commons vote, to fulfil work commitments with his other employer. That his second job involved officiating Barcelona’s home Champions League tie with Olympiakos on Wednesday evening is neither here nor there, albeit a job that may spark jealousy among football fans up and down the country…
Whilst Douglas Ross is running the sidelines at the Camp Nou, his Westminster colleagues were voting on Universal Credit, after a day of fierce debate in the Commons chamber. Given rumours of numerous Tory MPs planning to revolt against the government in this vote, it appears the Tory Whip has adopted a relaxed approach to events. But Ross’ move has reignited an entirely separate debate.
The life of a Westminster politician is hectic and fraught. From attendance and voting in the chamber, to membership of committees and constituency business, the diary of a sitting MP reads a breathless torrent of meetings and timetabling. So the choice of many MPs to take a second or even third job, is somewhat surprising. Yet a poll of the 2015 cohort revealed that over 100 MPs held second jobs, and with numbers not yet published for the current 2017 intake that number may well now be higher.
This debate was pushed to the forefront of the political landscape earlier this year, when it emerged that former chancellor George Osborne, then MP for Tatton, was working effectively four jobs, and had just accepted the post of editor of the Evening Standard. Not only is the issue of time management at stake in such circumstances, but conflict of interest becomes an issue when MPs have personal investments in particular areas or expertise. Osborne eventually stepped down from being an MP, sparking a by-election at taxpayer expense, as he cited a desire to commit fully to the paper.
So should MPs be allowed to work outside of their parliamentary commitments? Ross has faced calls to cease football refereeing, opponents claiming he is doing a disservice to his constituency, whilst his office and party allies have defended his work ethic. Having been elected to represent the people of Moray in Scotland, it is arguably fair criticism that he is selfishly pursuing a sizeable paycheck and high profile non-political work and in doing so failing to represent his constituents in the chamber, especially with an issue as divisive and far reaching as Universal Credit. Ross, as with any other MP, is elected to represent, democratically, his constituents interests in Westminster. Whilst understandably such an important job attracts many unique opportunities, MPs must be careful not to exploit their position for personal gain, especially to the detriment of their constituents interests.
After the announcement of Osborne’s editorial post earlier this year, the Committee on Standards in Public Life launched a consultation on reforming the rules governing MPs holding second jobs. Currently, if commitments are deemed “reasonable”, then such posts are allowed. The ethics watchdog has since produced no such report, as the issue became less important, there has been a diminished haste to produce consultation findings.
Portcullis House in Westminster, where many MP’s offices are based.
Whilst the results of the Committee’s findings are yet to emerge, the issue of second jobs for MPs has once again surfaced in the political debate. Whilst MPs are free to pursue other areas of interest and expertise, when this begins to have an impact both on the representation of constituents in Westminster, and on conflicts of interest in their parliamentary role, issues arise. MPs need to think seriously about whether individuals in such responsible positions can hold two or more jobs at once. When Douglas Ross is finished officiating the likes of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi in Barcelona, he may well return home to a very different kind of messy situation, if the result of Wednesday’s vote impacts his constituents who rightly feel under-represented in the chamber during the vote.
MPs holding second jobs is an issue that needs to be tackled. If MPs are selfishly pursuing their own interests, and in doing so shortchanging their constituents who elected them to their political post in the first place, then guidelines on this matter simply must change. Second jobs are a contentious area of discussion. If an MP can show that it will simply have no impact on his or her Westminster commitments, then it should perhaps be allowed. But if we begin to see MPs failing their constituents in key votes or areas such as this, then perhaps a rethink of arrangements must be considered.