Hefty majorities become hefty bank balances with MPs’ outside jobs

Doug Cowan, Head of Digital

Posted on the 15th November 2021

“It’s for the voters in any individual constituency to look at the record of their MP and decide whether they’ve got the right priorities” said Justice Secretary Dominic Raab.

“Constituents can… make a judgement themselves… about whether they think their MP has done a good job or not.” said Health secretary Sajid Javid.

Geoffrey Cox released a statement that said “it is up to the electors of Torridge and West Devon whether or not they vote for someone who is a senior and distinguished professional in his field and who still practices that profession.”

As the second jobs scandal engulfs Westminster, the same line keeps being rolled out by government figures: If voters didn’t like their MPs pocketing sizeable sums from second jobs, they wouldn’t keep re-electing them.

The idea that First Past the Post lets voters kick out their MP for impropriety is just another convenient fiction that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Owen Paterson, the now-former MP whose botched defence kicked off the current round of scandals, had a majority of 22,949 – 62.7% of the voters in Shropshire North voted for him in 2019. While the 35,444 residents of Shropshire North who voted for him, might rather he wasn’t getting paid £8,333 a month by Randox Laboratories for 16 hours work and £2,000 every other month from Lynn’s Country Foods for four hours work, under First Past The Post there isn’t a different Conservative candidate they could vote for.

Voters in North Shropshire have no mechanism for rejecting him, without also rejecting a party they might support, and policies on the economy, jobs, crime or climate change they want to see implemented.

Of course, there are voters whose primary concern is corruption and some of them may be lucky enough to live in a marginal seat that might change hands at an election. But this sets up a situation where different rules apply to different MPs. If you represent a marginal seat an MP will have to live off their salary alone, while those with hefty majorities can develop bank balances to match.

In safe seats, MPs need their party’s support instead of the voters whilst in competitive seats MPs need to care what their constituents think.

There certainly are echoes of the 2009 MPs’ expenses scandal, where there was a correlation between the likelihood of an MP being caught up in the scandal and the safeness of their parliamentary seat.

The government might try and make the problem go away by banning second jobs, as they reformed the expenses system. But until they reform the voting system we will always be saddled with MPs that know that they have a seat for life, no matter what they do, or don’t do.

With the Single Transferable Vote, as used in Scotland for local elections and all elections in the Republic of Ireland voters can choose between candidates of the same party. If they dislike an MP, but still want their party to be in government, they can just put the alternative candidate as their number one. On top of this, you get a parliament that reflects how people actually voted, rather than artificially giving one party a majority, when they lack a majority of support from the public.

Voters can certainly look at the record of the MP and make a judgement, but as long as we have First Past the Post there is little they can do about it. No more stop-gap fixes, it’s time to upgrade our voting system to solve the root cause of the problem.

Sign our petition to change the voting system

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