The Independent couldn’t find anyone with even a pretension of impartiality, so it settled for Tamasin Cave of SpinWatch. “He’s not just moonlighting – he seems to be bunking off work as an MP to focus on his other job as a barrister,” she complained of Geoffrey Cox, the MP for Torridge and Devon, who has apparently earned “as much as £1,333 per hour to make a total of £452,545” for his work as a barrister.
A moment’s thought proves that Cave is wrong. Being an MP is not a “job”. Were it so, MPs would not also be able to serve as Ministers. Cox is an able man and a legal heavyweight (being no mere barrister but a head of chambers), who might perfectly well have been appointed Attorney General. Suppose he were serving in that post now. What on earth would providing legal advice to David Cameron have to do with his work for the good people of Winkleigh, Clovelly Bay or the splendidly-named Westward Ho?
Or suppose he were the Security Minister in Northern Ireland, a job well within the limits of his capabilities. How would that benefit the voters of Monkleigh and Littleham, of Shebbear and Langtree? Or a Minister at Transport, responsible for HS2. How would planning the transport of passengers from London Euston to Birmingham Curzon Street benefit the burghers of Coham Bridge?
Perhaps being an MP should be a job. Maybe the time has come to separate the executive from the legislature completely, and move to a rationalist-type separation of powers, complete with a directly-elected Prime Minister, Ministerial appointment ratified by Select Committee, a fully elected Upper House, and a written constitution to set out who does what. But until or unless this happens, MPs are free to work as Ministers – and elsewhere.
UKIP are poised to win the Rochester and Strood by-elections. The Green yesterday outscored the Liberal Democrats in a poll. Everywhere, there is disdain for the “political class” – that’s to say, professional politicians who have no working experience whatsoever outside politics, or who quickly lose touch with the world outside Westminster after being elected.
So at the same time as complaining about politicians who couldn’t earn a living outside the Commons, are we really going to complain too about those who can – and prove it? The problem with Parliament isn’t that there are too many Geoffrey Coxes, but too few. Able people are sniffing the wind. They look at the Commons, with its declaration requirements for outside earnings (which are designed to discourage them), IPSA, and media intrusion (in which families are fair game), and decide its not for them.
If you doubt it, look at what’s happening in selections for “safe” Conservative seats. Twenty years ago, the number of applicants would have been in the mid-hundreds. Now even seats that have been Tory since the days of Squire Mytton are lucky to get half that. The quality is not yet declining: the Commons is lucky to have, say, Rory Stewart, Andrea Leadsom and Jesse Norman.
But that may come. In the meantime, turnover is rising. William Hague is 53 and David Willetts 58. The first is one of the most accomplished politicians of our time and the second one of its most original thinkers. Both are leaving. Neither will be around to advise, encourage, warn, share the fruits of their experience. They are off to the Lords (one presumes) and to make money. Who can blame them?
Against this bleak background, Cox is a shining light – an example to us all. We need more MPs like him. I must now be off to resume my editing of ConservativeHome, at an hourly rate that is yet to reach £1,333.