If you look at politics as a geek, you will know the name, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, he is generally regarded as one of the more important people of influence in the Conservative Party.
He has served under Margaret Thatcher and John Major in the days were the Conservatives were a dominate force. Rifkind was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Edinburgh Pentlands from 1974 to 1997. Currently he is the MP for Kensington and Chelsea and sits as chairman of the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, one of the most sensitive committees at Westminster.
It therefore comes as a bit of a surprise that the Conservative Party has suspended the whip from former foreign secretary and that he will face a party disciplinary committee investigating cash-for-access allegations.
He is in this mess because of an undercover sting operation which is all the rage with newspapers. You get a guy to approach an MP in this case posing as representatives of a fictitious Hong Kong-based firm. They apparently wanted to hire senior British politicians to join its advisory board.
MPs being on the boards of other companies isn’t anything new, however the issue of ‘cash for access’ still remains a topic on the political agenda.
In short, an MP should be banned from paid secondary employment if it can be seen to impact on their role as a parliamentarian.
I have never agreed with the argument, they are getting experience, if they want the experience then let them do it for no pay but purely expenses.
Sir Malcolm it is alleged is said to have claimed that he could arrange “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world because of his status.
On the other side of the Commons, Labour’s former foreign secretary Jack Straw has allegedly boasted of operating “under the radar” to use his influence to change European Union rules on behalf of a commodity firm which paid him £60,000 a year.
As I understand it Jack Straw is said to be standing down at this election, both Rifkind and Straw deny any wrongdoing. Also they have referred themselves to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
In Rifkind’s case he had a meeting with Tory Chief Whip Michael Gove and the outcome of that event was suspension of the whip with effective immediately.
It is worthwhile pointing out that there is an election going on, so parties tend to get rid of people so they can appear a fresh as the driven snow.
In the course of the investigation, the Telegraph/Dispatches team met Sir Malcolm at their fictional firm’s Mayfair office. He is said to have told them he could meet “any ambassador that I wish to see” in London.
During the meetings, Sir Malcolm is said to have described himself as being “self-employed” which he said his rate was “somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000” for a half a day’s work.
Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said it was “shocking” that two such experienced MPs have acted in the way that they did.
Clearly, the rules of the House of Commons need to be revisited, no MP should ever be seen to provide access if they are getting paid by the firm they ‘work’ for, in general, I am totally against secondary paid employment for MPs.
Fees for after dinner speaking or appearing on TV as a co presenter or regular pundit I have no object to.
Westminster suffered a blow to its reputation because of the expenses scandal; this type of story also damages its integrity because it looks like people milking the system.
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University