At Westminster, the antiquated buildings and even more antiquated procedures can make it feel a lot of the time that, in the best traditions of HG Wells, your time machine has taken you back to Victorian times. If that sounds harsh, bear in mind this is a workplace which until 1998 still had a requirement that MPs should wear a top hat to make a ‘Point of Order’ about the conduct of proceedings.
Recently, our time machine seemed to land us back us in the mid-1990s, with Conservative MPs lobbying on behalf of their second job and budgets that reward rich bankers, all while hiking the cost of living for the less well-off.
It’s expected that MPs should make representations to Ministers and public bodies on behalf of our constituents. We will also take up issues of national significance or public interest because it is the right thing to do. What no MP should ever do is ask questions or pursue issues for payment. Keep in mind as well that an MP and their staff work a full week and more on behalf of constituents so if an MP is also earning a second wage working for outside interests earning £100,000 a year as in the recent example, someone somewhere isn’t getting value for their money and it’s almost certainly the taxpayer.
The rules on lobbying MPs were updated in 2014, supposedly to improve transparency and the accountability of organisations seeking to influence public policy and legislators. In reality, it was about gagging third sector organisations, charities and trade unions critical of government, leaving many other vested interests intact.
Most of us would recognise that it would be an outrage for an MP to use their elected position to promote the interests of paying clients. Not so this current UK Government, which last week was quite prepared to rip-up the system which had, rightly, concluded that a Conservative MP’s actions “were an egregious case of paid advocacy”, and “that he repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant”.
The ensuing outcry and the refusal of opposition parties to be part of whatever new – and no doubt less robust - arrangements were to follow meant the PM was forced into reverse gear. Be in no doubt that Westminster is beset with scandal after scandal – with the Prime Minister and his colleagues guilty of breaking the ministerial code, shutting down Parliament unlawfully, handing peerages to donors, offering contracts to cronies and allowing special access for their friends.
The Budget is a case in point. The UK already has the worst levels of poverty and inequality in North-west Europe, together with the least generous pensions and unemployment benefits. This was an opportunity for the Chancellor to take bold action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and help reverse the rising poverty levels the UK is currently facing. Instead, he opted to impose damaging cuts to the incomes of the lowest earners at a time when people’s food and energy bills are rising and taxes are increasing.
While the big banks can look forward to tax cuts, a whole raft of measures such as the cut to Universal Credit, the hike in National Insurance, and the breaking of the triple-lock on pensions – meaning pensioners will now be £520 worse-off next year – illustrates where this UK Government has its priorities.
Scotland deserves better than this.