Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sir Malcolm Rifkind steps down as security committee chairman and as an MP, a sad end to a career spanning 40 years, this affair shows that the House of Commons needs to set new rules for members to abide by

Dear All

Politics at times can be a fast moving business, particularly when the whiff of possibly scandal is bouncing about the place, chuck in a General election coming up and minds get focused rather quickly.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind was caught up in a Daily Telegraph / Channel 4 Despatches sting operation; he was offering “useful access” to all the UK’s ambassadors to a fictitious Chinese company.

Malcolm Rifkind wasn’t just a run of the mill MP; he was previously a Foreign and Defence Secretary in John Major’s government as well as being seen as a Scottish Tory grandee.

His career kicked off when he was elected back in 1974 as an MP in Edinburgh; it was a very successful career in many respects both personally and politically. He was also the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee which is one of the most prestigious committees of the House of Commons.

Now with the resulting publicity of the sting operation, he has resigned as chairman and will be stepping down as an MP for Kensington and Chelsea.

During the meetings with fake representatives of the Chinese company, Sir Malcolm is said to have described himself as “self employed”.

That is rather novel given that taxpayer pays him a £67,000 a year MP’s salary on the basis that he will represent his constituents interests in Parliament. How hard an MP works or even if they are good value for money remains subjective. There are some pretty dire MPs kicking about the place or prison depending on what they get up to.

As to be “self employed”, it is said that Malcolm Rifkind wasn’t cheap, he charged anywhere between £5,000 and £8,000 a day.

Presumably he sprung for his own lunch, mind you big companies sometimes lay on grub. This episode will no doubt have damaged his reputation but given Rifkind has stepped down as Chairman and not contesting his seat, the press interest should more or less move on. Although no longer Chairman of his Committee, Rifkind will remain a member and see out his term before stepping down.

In a statement today he was still unapologetic regarding what has happened.

He said:

“None of the current controversy with which I am associated is relevant to my work as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. However, I have today informed my colleagues that while I will remain a member of the Committee, I will step down from the chairmanship. The committee is due to be dissolved in little over a month with the prorogation of Parliament for the forthcoming General Election. The main substantive work which needs to be completed will be the publication of our Privacy and Security Report during March. I do not want the work of the committee and the publication of the Report to be, in any way, distracted or affected by controversy as to my personal position. I have concluded, therefore, that it is better that this important work should be presided over by a new chairman.”

As I said things in politics can move really fast, this resignation is quick even by the standards of the House of Commons.  Sir Malcolm Rifkind stepping down as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee was the right thing to do. I would have let the voters decide of whether he should have continued as MP for Kensington and Chelsea.

Some MPs as I understand it made £7 million last year, presumably the voters should look very closely at who is representing them and are they getting best served, or are they just getting used so that someone can use the House of Commons as a gateway to further enrichment.

In many ways, this is a sad end to a career in the House of Commons spanning over 40 years. Somewhere down the line after the dust has settled, Sir Malcolm Rifkind will probably get a peerage and end up in the House of Lords given his track record of government service.

This episode shows that Westminster still needs to address some issues in order to rebuild public trust, which hasn’t recovered since the expenses scandal was first brought into the public domain.

Yours sincerely

George Laird

The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

1 comment:

Freddy said...

I personally don't think you should have a second job George if it means paying MP's more money so be it. I would also have it that you were barred from consulting or lobbying for about 5 years after either a parliamentary or civil service career. However after the other stings you would think that mp's would have learnt by now, just goes to show you can have alll sorts of brains and a lack of basic nouse the fact an unknown company was interviewing should have had antenna twitching. If the figures said out of 12 MP's approached 6 turned them down probably because they figured someone was at it .