The scandal of the revolving door

Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw have been cleared of breaking the rules on cash for access. Sound familiar? The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found that there had been “no breach of the rules on paid lobbying”. However as with the expenses crisis I can’t help but question whether the rules are part of the problem.

The Commissioner drew attention to the fact that Jack Straw was talking about work an MP might take on after leaving Parliament. This is a crucial distinction. He wasn’t talking about a lobbying company buying the services of an MP but a former government minister using all the skills, experience and contacts built up over a long career for private gain.  Both undermine public trust in politics, particularly when the average waiting period is only 3 months,  but only the former is against the rules. The ‘revolving door’ is alive and well and virtually unregulated.

Former ministers are entitled to take jobs in the private sector, even the sector that they have been working in within government, although they do have to be approved by a regulatory body. So far more than half a dozen Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have accepted roles with companies and charities they met in their ministerial roles.

  • Steve Webb, the Lib Dem former pensions minister, has taken up a role at the Royal London Group, a pensions firm

  • Owen Paterson, the ex-Northern Ireland Secretary, has been appointed president of a company he dealt with while he was pushing for corporation tax to be devolved to Belfast.

  • David Willetts, the ex-universities minister,has taken a job as “education investment adviser” to a development firm building a major new campus in east London. His job will involve approaching universities about setting up a presence on the site.

  • Ed Davey, the former Minister for Climate Change has taken up a consultancy role with Herbert Smith Freehills and become Chairman of Mongoose Energy a company which he met with as a Minister and which still has a relationship with DECC.

All of these appointments have been approved as there is no explicit rule banning ministers from taking up jobs with organisations with which they have had direct official dealings during their time in office.

The fact is that the lack of transparency in lobbying remains the real scandal.