Boris Johnson, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, has reportedly earned £4.8m from outside pay since leaving Downing Street, making him the highest earner among MPs. This includes earnings from speeches and book deals, which amounted to almost 85% of all second job cash earned by MPs in the first six weeks of 2023. These earnings are in addition to Johnson’s basic MP salary of £84,144.
The fact that MPs can earn such large sums of money from external sources while serving in parliament should concern all constituents. Can MPs really fulfil their parliamentary duties while being distracted by lucrative outside work? If MPs are dedicating a significant amount of time to outside work, it must lead to less time to devote to serving their constituents and addressing their needs. Of course our honourable members will claim they always make time for us, but we all know for some, extra curricular earning will always take precedence.
Additionally, the income disparity between MPs and the general public, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, highlights the ongoing issue of inequality under the Tories. According to the Office for National Statistics, the average salary in the UK is around £33,000, which is significantly less than what some MPs are earning in just a few weeks from their outside work. This income disparity raises questions about conflicts of interest and whether MPs are truly working in the best interest of the people they were elected to represent.
Many in the public sector, such as those working in healthcare, local authority workers and teachers, are on significantly lower salaries than the average worker, and have to use food banks to make ends meet. They are now having to withdraw their labour by striking for better pay and conditions, while Tory ministers with their noses in the trough are raking in hundreds of thousands.
Nice work if you can get it
The fact that Mr Johnson’s extra-parliamentary work has generated such enormous sums must raise alarm bells about the inherent conflicts of interest that arise when MPs pursue private interests alongside their public duties. Of course it is not illegal for MPs to earn money outside Parliament, but the scale of Johnson’s earnings and the nature of his sources of income and the time it must take him away from the role, makes a mockery of those parliamentarians who work damned hard.
Unlike Matt Hancock, the former Conservative Health Secretary, who I blogged about earlier, and has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. While many of his constituents struggled to pay their bills, Hancock cashed in on his fame by appearing on “I’m A Celebrity,” where he reportedly earned a staggering £320,000. Despite his spokesperson claiming that he donated £10,000 of this amount to charity, it’s hard to shake off the image of a politician who is more concerned with his own financial gain than the well-being of his constituents. In addition to his reality TV stint, Hancock declared a further £48,000 from the serialisation of his book, which reportedly sold just 3,000 copies in its first week. It’s clear that some politicians will stop at nothing to pad their bank accounts, even if it means sacrificing their integrity and exploiting their public position.
It is undoubtedly galling to see Johnson and Hancock earning vast sums of money outside of their parliamentary duties, especially given their sullied reputations. Both were responsible for a poorly handled response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Johnson advocating for herd immunity and Hancock’s failure to prevent the virus from spreading in care homes. The revelations of Johnson’s alleged lockdown parties and Hancock’s affair with an aide have only further eroded their public image. It is disgraceful that these individuals, who have so blatantly disregarded the nation and the well-being of their constituents, are still able to profit so greatly from their positions of power.
Money, Money, Money
The fact that 17 of the top 20 MPs with the highest declared outside earnings are Conservatives only reinforces concerns about the inherent conflicts of interest that arise when Tory MPs pursue private interests alongside their public duties, as stated by Sky News in their original report on the Westminster Accounts.
Owen Paterson, remember him? The former Tory MP who was found to have breached conduct rules in October 2021 by using his influence in Whitehall for the financial gain of clinical diagnostics company Randox and meat distributor Lynn’s Country Foods, for which he earned £100,000 per year on top of his MP’s salary of £84,000. He made several approaches to officials and ministers and failed to declare his interests in some emails, and also used his parliamentary office and stationery for his consultancy work.
Yes, Owen Paterson’s actions as a paid consultant for while simultaneously serving as an MP and making approaches to officials and ministers on their behalf was seen as a conflict of interest. As an elected representative, his duty is to serve the public interest and not use his position to benefit private companies. The breaches of conduct rules and paid advocacy rules found by the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards reflect the seriousness of the conflict of interest that Paterson had. We said goodbye to Patterson the following month (November 2021) resigning before being booted.
In total since the last election Conservative MPs have raked in a staggering £15 million on top of their generous salaries. The rest of the house a mere £2 million. Is it ethical for MPs to take money from elsewhere on top of their salaries, given the potential conflict of interest and the risk that financial incentives can bias their judgment? It certainly isn’t, and the next Labour government must make good on recent promises and do something about it. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
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