Politics

The rival plans on sleaze from Labour and the Conservatives

Boris Johnson has set out new proposals to ban MPs from taking second jobs as consultants as the so-called sleaze crisis threatens to engulf his party and Westminster. 

The prime minister “caved in” to pressure to take action on MPs’ second jobs ahead of a “potentially embarrassing” Commons vote on Labour demands to end MPs taking lucrative outside consultancy and lobbying work, said The Independent. 

The prime minister announced his own proposals yesterday, outlining two changes to current rules, both of which are recommendations from a 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The first change would be a ban on MPs accepting paid work as parliamentary advisers, strategists or consultants, while the second dictates that MPs’ outside work should be “within reasonable limits and should not prevent them from fully carrying out their range of duties”. 

The Labour motion called for MPs to be banned from “any paid work to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser, or consultant”, while Labour leader Keir Starmer said yesterday he wanted to “ban all second jobs for MPs with very limited exceptions” –  although the banning of all second jobs for MPs does not appear in the Labour motion. 

Government officials claim their proposal “toughens up” the Labour motions by setting limits for outside work, said Politico’s London Playbook. “We’re going further than Labour’s proposals,” a No. 10 official said. But Labour attacked the amendment plans as “not specific” and saying it “waters down” the motion in being a non-binding proposal which “removes the guarantee of a future vote in parliament on banning paid work”. 

Johnson announced his plans in a letter to the Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, which he tweeted following yesterday’s afternoon debate on parliamentary sleaze and just ahead of a press conference given by Keir Starmer in which he set out his “five-point plan for cleaning up politics”.

As The Times explained, Labour had planned to use an opposition day to force a vote on banning MPs from paid consultancy and directorships. And while these votes are not binding, Labour believed that because the motion “would require changes from the House of Commons rather than the government, the result would take effect”.

The Telegraph said Johnson had “blindsided” the Labour leader, and the publication of his proposals had effectively “stolen Labour’s thunder on second jobs”. 

But the new Conservative proposals are less a political victory for Johnson and more that he was “shamed into yet another U-turn” said The Mirror, adding that the prime minister had “caved to pressure to root out sleaze” put on it by the Labour Party. 

Starmer too was keen to hail Johnson’s new proposals as a Labour victory: “Be under no illusion, the prime minister has only done this because his back was against the wall because the Labour Party have put down a binding vote for tomorrow,” he told journalists after his press conference.

“This is a significant victory for the Labour Party; it would not have happened if we hadn’t put down that binding vote.”

So, do Johnson’s proposals go far enough to dampen the second jobs row? asked Stephen Bush in The New Statesman. “In political terms, Johnson’s proposed measures are fraught with risks,” he said.

According to polling, most voters oppose not only MPs working as consultants – as both Labour and Conservative reforms cover – but other types of lucrative second jobs too, like accountants, lawyers and newspaper columnists. 

The danger now is that Johnson’s approach “won’t bring the row over second jobs to a close; it may in fact deepen it”.

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