Since the Conway story broke the News of the World has been leading the Sunday newspapers’ hunt for more details of how many MPs pay their relatives. We have no idea if they have discovered anything interesting…
David Cameron has this morning announced his own first policy response to the whole affair:
“As you know, Members of Parliament are responsible for employing their own staff. Earlier this week I asked to be told how many members of my parliamentary party employ family members and there are over 70. I believe the public are right to demand more transparency and openness when it comes to MPs staff, pay, allowances and expenses. As a first step I will ensure that from the start of the new financial year (1st April 2008) all Conservative Front Bench MPs must declare if they employ family members in the Register of Members Interests. I hope all other Conservative MPs will follow suit. This is the first in a number of steps we need to take to reassure people that Members of Parliament work hard for their constituents and are honest and open in their spending of public money.”
That seventy number is interesting – slightly more than a third of the parliamentary party. There is, of course, nothing wrong with MPs employing relatives. Most MPs work very long hours and at weekends. Having a spouse manage the diary so that political and family commitments can be interwoven is just one reason why employing a wife or husband can make a lot of sense.
Mr Cameron’s statement may not go far enough for many watchers, however. He is requiring frontbenchers to declare if they employ relatives but he is not asking them to say how much they pay them. The Chief Whip might have told him that that would provoke a mini-rebellion.