Is there anyone left in the Conservative party who is happy with Boris Johnson? The Prime Minister has now managed to wind up pretty much every single Tory MP with his handling of the second jobs row, opening up still more fault lines in the past 24 hours. His letter to the Speaker yesterday saying he wanted a ban on MPs taking paid work as parliamentary strategists, advisers or consultants — and that outside work should also be within ‘reasonable limits’ — has upset the many backbench Tories. They now worry that they’ll suffer a big drop in income thanks to the mishandling of the Owen Paterson case.
The letter was also sufficiently vague to reignite the whole row about whether being an MP is a full-time job. This morning International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan ended up in a tangle as she did the broadcast round, suggesting in one interview that 20 hours on top of your parliamentary work would be acceptable, and on other outlets that eight to ten hours would be OK. She did make the entirely reasonable point that many MPs have second jobs as government ministers, but it was clear that Trevelyan didn’t really know what Johnson meant by reasonable limits, and it is likely that the Prime Minister doesn’t either.
This is not a way to close down a row that’s been raging for more than a fortnight. It means the debate now becomes about whether MPs are actually so part-time that they’re able to do other jobs that take up a couple of days a week — and if this is the case, then why is anyone suggesting that their basic pay might have to rise to stop them wanting these outside interests?
Within the party, it only exacerbates the angry divide between the marginal seat MPs who think their job is more than full-time as they try to maintain their profile in their constituencies and parliament — and their safe seat colleagues who do indeed have much more time on their hands. ‘Why are we still arguing about this?’ fumes one red wall MP. They explain that many of their colleagues decided not to prolong the row by talking about it to journalists — only to watch the Prime Minister make things worse once again. ‘We can’t be a party that goes on about the “people’s priorities” and then gets upset about jobs for the boys.’ But that’s precisely what’s going to happen for a good while longer, not least because the Prime Minister hasn’t really worked out what sort of jobs he wants to stop.
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