MPs are elected representatives, not state employees. Their position is not unlike that of local councillors. Like them, they are free to work and earn more widely, though certain restrictions have been in place since the Nolan Report, and paid advocacy is barred. Unlike them, they draw a salary for their work on behalf of the voters they represent, but being an MP is none the less not a “job”.
This is not simply ConservativeHome’s view. It is also the factual and legal position. And it will inevitably come into play as the Commons considers whether or not MPs should be eligible for six months maternity and paternity leave – with other MPs casting proxy votes for them at Westminster, and unelected people covering for them in their constituencies.
Some will argue that MPs should be professional politicians, barred from working outside the Commons; that being an MP really is a job now – whatever the law may say. Most voters lean very heavily towards this view.
But it is does not necessarily follow that, if MPs are to be viewed in this way, they should have the right to claim maternity leave. The proposals are based on civil service scales. But if being an MP really was to become a job in the eyes of the law, would we really want them to be full-time employees of the state, thus becoming another group of public sector workers?
Might we want them, rather, to become self-employed? In this case, it is hard to see why they should get employment rights that other self-employed people don’t get. This is another objection to the maternity leave proposal, and merges into a wider objection – namely, that MPs should have rights than many of their constituents don’t have.
Whatever one’s view, the first question to ask is: what is an MP? Everything that they should and shouldn’t do in post flows from that decision – not the other way round.