Did you know that in the United Kingdom you could be a Member of Parliament (MP), be a paid speaker for an international lecture agency, be a paid advisor for a global investment management corporation, chair a public-private partnership organisation, be a fellow at a think-tank, and also take on a role as a newspaper editor, all at the same time?
One such example of a public servant is Britain’s ex-chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, who is currently under pressure to relinquish his parliamentary duties should he accept the role of a newspaper editor for the London Evening Standard come May.
But Mr Osborne isn’t about to bend to such pressure – in fact, he has accepted the job offer and believes that he can do all five jobs and still represent the needs and aspirations of the people of his constituency in Tatton, Cheshire.
Defending his six jobs this week including being an MP where he earns £75,000 a year plus expenses, Mr Osborne wrote that “now I have left Downing Street I want to continue to take part in the debate about the future direction of our country. No longer being Chancellor gives me time to do that in other ways – yes, in the Chamber of the House of Commons; but also as the editor of a major newspaper, the Evening Standard.”
Except that Mr Osborne side stepped to mention that alongside his parliamentary duties, he also earns handsomely as a lobbyist, speaker, advisor, and fellow. To be fair to Mr Osborne, having other jobs alongside being an MP is not especially unusual in the UK, and neither is it illegal.
In 2014, according to public records, 281 British MPs declared combined earnings of over £7 million earned outside parliament. Records also show that up to 30 MPs had doubled their salary through additional jobs.
And a total of 26,600 hours were spent by MPs on non-parliamentary duties in 2014 alone.
Personally, I find additional jobs particularly those taken up by elected officials to be morally wrong; they depict public service to be a side gig, or some sort of launch-pad for individuals who want to first acquaint themselves with the internal workings of government before they can set out to earn big bucks in the private sector as lobbyists or advisors.
Do not get me wrong, I am not begrudging the men and women for their potential earnings from all the extra jobs mentioned above; after all they have the necessary skills to carry out such duties.
But, as someone who cares deeply about public service and representing the interests of the people, I find additional jobs taken up by elected officials like MPs to be a distraction from their primary duties including representing local interests, speaking for those without a voice, raising in parliament issues affecting their constituents, debating local and national matters, and voting on new laws.
How then can elected officials sufficiently execute such duties and still have enough time to moonlight as advisors to investment firms, paid speakers, fellows, or newspaper editors, and what does it say about a possible conflict of interest?
After all, my understanding is that private firms seldom pay to be advised about already-existing legislation or policy; time and again they pay large sums of money to get ahead of new legislation or new policy.
And who better to hire for that role than a serving MP willing to split his or her time between serving the people and serving corporations?
And the Code of Conduct for MPs, in this case, MPs at Westminster does little to dispel any objections that ordinary people may have about their MPs taking on extra jobs and therefore exhibiting a conflict of interest.
Indeed, while the Code of Conduct at Westminster states that an MP must not act as a ‘paid advocate’ - taking payment for speaking in the House, asking a parliamentary question, tabling a motion, introducing a bill or tabling or moving an amendment to a motion or bill or urging colleagues or ministers to do so, Mr Osborne’s case paints a whole new picture – perhaps one that the existing rules did not anticipate.
But then again, a sceptic would ask: how can the rules be strict if parliament acts as prosecutor, judge and jury in determining what MPs can and cannot do outside parliament?
To conclude, it is my belief that being a Member of Parliament, elected or appointed official in any capacity is not only a privilege, it is an honour that ought to go to those individuals who are fully committed to serve the public and be able to demonstrate their commitment through the hours spent representing people and serving the public.
Public service should not be done alongside private interests. Public service is a vocation that requires full-time commitment.