“Is politics a service, a duty, a means to represent the needs and aspirations of the people, or is it a launchpad for lucrative jobs in the private sector? George Osborne was terribly amused in the House of Commons yesterday: all this fuss over a trifling issue like the corruption of British democracy! Can’t we see he’s doing us a favour, having to suffer the indignity of being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for multiple jobs rather than representing his constituents, all to make sure our “parliament is enhanced”, as he puts it? The sacrifice Osborne has made for all of us, having to be paid a juicy salary to further blur the distinction between media and political power, to make sure parliament is enriched by yet more MPs failing to devote themselves to the people who elected them.
There isn’t a sick bag big enough. It turns out he didn’t bother waiting for the advisory committee on business appointments to decide whether there is a conflict of interest first. Either they rule that there is an obvious conflict of interest in a serving senior Tory politician editing a daily newspaper, or the rules are a farce. Regardless, there are a number of lessons here. One is that some politicians think they are simply too brilliant to be reduced to the mere level of giving a voice to those they exist to serve, exploiting the prominence that comes with constituents selecting them as their representative and then making a packet out of it. Another was David Miliband, who made hundreds of thousands of pounds for speeches and corporate advisory roles when he returned to the backbenches: at least he had the dignity to eventually resign from his seat.
Then there is the revolving door of British politics. Public office gives you lots of marketable advantages: prominence, connections, knowledge of the inside workings of government. These can then be exploited by major corporations, wealthy individuals and media oligarchs to gain even more power over our corrupted democracy. Health ministers whose job it is to defend our sacred NHS end up working for private health firms who benefit from its privatisation; defence ministers end up working for arms firms bidding for government contracts. Our now foreign secretary was paid a quarter of a million pounds – described by Boris Johnson as “chicken feed” – for writing columns rather than, say, serving Londoners (although he did give up his regular column after becoming foreign secretary).”