“Former parliamentary assistant Margot was thrilled to get a job in politics a few years ago, when she was in her mid-20s, but soon found herself a personal lackey, often doing private work instead of the constituency casework she was hired for – something that is against parliamentary rules. She spent three days designing a website for her MP’s wife’s company, and was then sent to the couple’s home to show his wife how to use it. At other times, she was told to run an online auction to sell her MP’s livestock collection and find people to write references so he could apply to a private members’ club. “It would have been so hard to say no to whatever I was asked to do,” she tells me. “I assumed it was par for the course, although I recognised it was outside of my duties. Had I wanted to complain, I would have had no idea how.”
Her boss, who is still an MP, shouted and swore at staff and told racist and sexist jokes, she and other members of his team tell me. With four full-time assistants paid from his parliamentary staffing allowance (this is £153,620, or £164,460 for London MPs), who helped with his personal life and political work, the MP spent significant time consulting for private businesses and attending board meetings. More than once, staff opened his office door and found him playing computer games in the middle of the day. “All I could really do was roll my eyes,” Margot says. “Because these people are more powerful, you just have to put up with it.” …”
… It also helps to be related or married to your boss [as Hugo Swire an Neil Parish do]: more than 100 MPs currently employ their relatives with public money, according to parliament’s register of members’ financial interests. Among them is Labour’s Margaret Beckett, whose husband Leo, in his 90s, has worked for her for decades. In a rare instance of intrusion into staffing, last March parliament’s standards authority banned MPs from hiring family members, saying it hindered diversity and transparency, although relatives who were already employed can remain. Archy Kirkwood tells me he “made no secret” of employing his wife, that she worked hard and “would never let me down”, but acknowledges some MPs have been less conscientious. “The only person in the world I would trust to handle constituency business in London in my absence would be my wife,” he says. “But [the system] was abused. It was.” Emma, another former researcher for an MP, says her boss employed his wife on the highest pay band (currently almost £50,000 a year), but it was unclear how much work she did.