Jon Tonge is Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool
“The return of parliamentary sleaze allegations is depressing for those of us daring to hope that the worst was over for Westminster’s reputation. We are not going back to the 1990s, when parliamentarians were reputedly ‘available for hire like London taxis’, but the latest claims show how an old problem (the Committee for Standards in Public Life was formed in 1994) has not disappeared.
It is little wonder that survey evidence suggests only 1 in 5 of us believes parliamentary properly represents the interests of ordinary people.
Deny any wrongdoing
It is important to stress that the three peers accused over the weekend deny any wrongdoing. Each stressed to the fake lobbyists that they would declare any money received and intended to record their paid interest in the parliamentary register.
A register of lobbyists would create a hierarchy of licensed lobbyists without removing the cash for access problem.
All 35 million of us electors are potential lobbyists. We don’t need licensing. We just need to be prevented from offering cash to parliamentarians to persuade them to act in our interests.
The other ‘big idea’ is the power of ‘recall’ of a democratically elected MP, but how and when this should be done is far from clear.
What should be done?
The solutions are not that difficult, but need to be very different from what the government proposes.
1. Make it a serious criminal offence, with punitive penalties, for any lobby group (or individual) to pay parliamentarians (above a token sum) to represent their interests.
2. Make it a serious criminal offence for parliamentarians to accept cash to act in this way (far better than ‘codes of conduct’).
3. Prohibit any convicted parliamentarian from re-entering parliament.
4. Pay MPs and peers more so they are not tempted to accept financial sweeteners from lobbyists. Yes, I know there will be howls of outrage in suggesting that MPs – already receiving £66,000 per year (£38,000 more than the average wage) should be paid even more, but a hair-shirt mentality achieves nothing. Peers are not even paid (admittedly they receive a £300 daily attendance allowance) and need to earn a living – but not via lobbyists please.
Points 1 to 3 can easily be implemented with political will. Point 4 is more contentious.
The answer to yet another ‘lobbygate’ is to act decisively to ensure that parliamentarians argue on behalf of those who have persuaded them the most by the force of their argument, not the size of their wallet.”