Lots of MPs earn outside the Commons, and few of them are pursued over the details. What has made the case of TIm Yeo different is that he is the Chairman of a Select Committee (on Energy and Climate Change). Chairmen of Select Committees can now be paid by the taxpayer, and that Yeo is gave extra bite to allegations of a conflict of interest over those of his private earnings that relate to green matters. Yeo was also accused of coaching a select committee witness. He had little alternative but to stand aside as Chairman while the claims were investigated. He was later cleared and reinstated, but by then the allegations were all over his constituency. In other words, it’s very unlikely that the executive of his Association would have voted not to re-adopt him, as they did yesterday evening, had this inferno of publicity not exploded.
This leaves Yeo in roughly the same position that Crispin Blunt recently occupied. He may take heart from that example, believing that he will be reinstated as Conservative candidate in 2015 by a secret ballot of all Association members. Or, alternatively, he may decide that the game is no longer worth the candle. Senior Party sources tell me that while the Party will take no position on the matter, the Prime Minister will personally back Yeo if he decides to fight on, since he supports all sitting MPs in similar difficulty. It will be interesting to see whether or not Yeo wins the same emphatic backing from Conservative MPs that Blunt did.
I have no axe to grind against Yeo, who is intelligent and able, and am all for MPs having outside interests. But there is a moral in the story of what is happening to him. It is simply untenable for MPs to be paid to do a specific job by the taxpayer – in this case, chairing a select committee – while having outside interests for which they’re also paid, and which might reasonably be seen to produce a conflict. Yeo’s views on green matters and his work rate in his seat are irrelevant to this point. The Commons needs to sort the problem fast, whatever happens to Yeo – who may, this morning, be reflecting on the fact that his triumph in gaining the chairmanship of a select committee is inextricably linked to his defeat yesterday evening.