Joe Armitage is a Conservative activist and works for a Conservative MP.
A career in politics used to be a noble pursuit. Individuals who had gained experience in a field – whether that be in finance, law, accounting or mining – would give the benefit of their knowledge and experience to Parliament, and ultimately the nation. On the whole, this is still applicable today. Since 1980, however, the proportion of MPs whose only previous employment is in Westminster has steadily been increasing. In 1980 3 per cent of MPs had either worked for MPs as researchers or ministers as special advisors. In 1997 that figure had increased to 10 per cent and presently it is at 15 per cent. Added to this is the slow inversion of what becoming an MP is about. Before it was to contribute, now it starting to be to gain.
The inversion, whereby people become MPs, stay for one or two terms and then stand down with the intention of being jettisoned into a lucrative job, is becoming ever more prevalent. This particular trait heavily afflicts the Labour Party, which saw a staggering 100 of their MPs stand down in 2010. The majority were at retirement age but a sizeable number – several with ministerial experience – stood down to feather their nests in the private sector.
Kitty Ussher and Ian Pearson, both former Labour Treasury Ministers and still in their prime. One works as chief economic adviser at Portland, the other on the Advisory Board of PricewaterhouseCoopers. No doubt both jobs that command considerably higher salaries than their previous roles. How inverted: these two former ministers ought to have done these jobs prior to being put in charge of the economy. The reality is that their Treasury experience has guaranteed excellent remuneration at any bank of their choosing. The electorate is being treated as a cash cow.
It doesn’t stop there. Patricia Hewitt uses her experience as Secretary of State for Health to advise Boots Pharmacy and Cinven – presumably for considerably more than her previous ministerial salary. John Hutton also uses his experience as Secretary of State for Defence to sit on the USA’s Board of Hyperion Power Generation, which sells nuclear reactors. These two individuals would almost certainly not be in a position to hold these positions were it not for the electorate. There are plenty more, such as James Purnell, who’s only 44 but chose to ditch the nation and accept a £250,000-a-year job as the BBC’s Director of Strategy. Or Ruth Kelly who’s now a Senior Manager of HSBC.
Something profound is happening to our legislature. Already 23 Labour and 14 Conservative MPs have announced their intention to stand down in 2015. Politics needs to revert back to a time when it was about contribution, not gain. It has become a game for people who have worked in politics all their lives to ‘win’ PMQs, have their stint in Parliament and then rake it in working in a real job. Something they should have done prior to becoming an MP.
Former Ministers and even Prime Ministers more often used to stay on to give the legislature the benefit of their unique governmental insight. Callaghan remained an MP for 8 years after being ousted, Heath for 27. No doubt they chaired and advised a few boards, but at least we could still draw on their experience. Conservative Associations must try to gauge whether the candidates they are selecting are in it for the long haul or simply looking for a short-cut to well remunerated positions outside of politics. This also applies in equal measure to local Labour parties, as ultimately we should all want to see the best possible people with the most to offer making our laws, whatever colour their political flag.