Number 10 will have been relieved that the weekend did not bring new stories about Conservative MPs raking in lots of money from second jobs. There were still sleaze angles in the Sunday papers, including regarding the Prime Minister’s own dealings, but the air seems to be going out of the story a little.
The trouble is that this week brings a whole host of new chances for the row to blow up once again. There’s the Liaison Committee hearing with the Prime Minister on Wednesday, which will include questions on ‘propriety and ethics in government’. Labour also has an opposition day debate in the afternoon, arguing for a ban on paid directorships and consultancies for MPs.
Johnson and Rishi Sunak have tried to defuse things by suggesting that things need to change and that the Conservative party might have handled the Paterson case differently with hindsight. Indeed, the Tory MPs who noisily backed Owen Paterson, most of them from earlier intakes, had clearly not thought through the implications for their own outside earnings, nor considered the voters who see an £82,000 salary as plenty. Many of their own colleagues too – who had entered parliament much later and were from different backgrounds and political traditions – have been rather put out by their colleagues’ myopia. The past two weeks has opened up a chasm between the ‘red wall’ MPs elected in 2019 and more traditional Tories.
But Labour has its own divisions and awkwardness when it comes to second jobs. Keir Starmer is only tabling a motion banning certain types of second jobs, rather than all outside earnings. He has pressure from the left of the party to go further, with Richard Burgon calling for a bill banning the lot of them. He is also struggling against charges of hypocrisy from Jeremy Corbyn’s camp, with Corbyn’s allies claiming he blocked Starmer from taking a lucrative second job when he was shadow Brexit secretary – though Starmer says he made the decision himself.
So neither party is fully behind its leader’s handling of the latest sleaze row. That makes the situation far more volatile – and the story more likely to run on.<//>
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