Jeremy Corbyn makes a stunning proposal that could fix British politics for good

Jeremy Corbyn
Tracy Keeling

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has proposed a stunning change to parliamentary rules. The party has pledged to ban MPs from having second jobs if elected to government. It has also said it will bring in “sweeping” changes to rules on lobbying and donations, among other things.

These plans could fix British politics for good. Here’s why.

The establishment

Currently, British politicians are allowed to earn from other work. Opaque donations and lobbying are rife. And it’s not uncommon for politicians to ‘coincidentally’ find work with industries or companies they’ve had dealings with in parliament once they leave. In short, politicians, business and, indeed, the media are often as thick as thieves. As Owen Jones described in his 2014 book, they are The Establishment. He explained:

the establishment is cemented by financial links and a “revolving door”: that is, powerful individuals gliding between the political, corporate and media worlds – or who manage to inhabit these various worlds at the same time.

Practically, we can see where this system has got us. To be clear, MPs and ministers are bound to a code of conduct which dictates that they must not “act as a paid advocate” for anyone other than the public in their work in parliament. But, for example, the Guardian recently reported:

Oil companies, petrostates and climate contrarian thinktanks, businessmen and unions have given at least £5m to MPs over the past 10 years in the form of donations, expenses-paid trips, salaries and gifts.

It found that “Conservative politicians are far more likely to accept support from such sources”. Meanwhile, scientists and climate advisers have found that the Conservatives have a shocking record on tackling the climate crisis.

By law, these two things aren’t allowed to be connected. By logic, it’s hard not to suspect that they are.

Shake-up

So Labour is proposing a shake-up. Among other things, it will:

Ban donations from individuals who are not domiciled in the UK and who are non-resident for tax purposes, as well as donations from those non-tax compliant, including tax evaders

Require political parties to publish the names of any donors that donate over £7,500 in a calendar year that also attend events organised by that party in that same calendar year, when a purpose of that event is to engage donors

The party will also scrap the 2014 Lobbying Act, which has faced criticism for “stifling” campaigning by charities but doing little to shed light on corporate lobbying. Labour will replace it with a new register that it promises will:

Cover the millions of pounds worth of corporate lobbying conducted by in-house lobbyists and think-tanks, which is currently not captured by existing legislation, as well as by consultant lobbyists

Require lobbyists to declare the specific nature of the lobbying engagement, who is being targeted, what policy areas are under discussion, on behalf of whom, and the estimated value of the lobbying activity registered

Furthermore, it will ban MPs from holding second jobs, with limited exemptions for those who need to keep up their professional registrations, like nurses.

“A playground for the rich and powerful”

On the proposals, Labour’s shadow cabinet minister Jon Trickett argued:

Under the Tories politics and government is in serious danger of becoming a playground for the rich and powerful, with decisions often made behind closed doors in the interests of a small few, at the expense of the many. This is very worrying for our democracy.

But it’s not just policy-making that’s at risk of being ‘for the few, not the many’ under the current system. It’s the narrative fed to the country, particularly in critical times. As Jones wrote in The Establishment:

The terms of political debate are, in large part, dictated by a media controlled by a small number of exceptionally rich owners, while thinktanks and political parties are funded by wealthy individuals and corporate interests.

We’re seeing that play out right now. When the big players in media, politics and business are so closely knit together – financially, professionally and socially – they control what conversation the country can, and cannot, have. They set the parameters of debate. Currently, this system doing a great disservice to the British public by not honestly presenting the choice they have at the upcoming election.

Labour’s plans put a professional and financial barrier between politicians and vested interests. That would go a long way towards fixing British politics for good.

Featured image via YouTube – Guardian News

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  • Show Comments
    1. There was a cartoon strip in Punch from 1872 (Gladstone was PM) which said, “The only honest politician is one who, once bought, stays bought.” That was in the time before working class people who didn’t own property even had the vote, so British politics has been rotten since before universal suffrage.

      It will clean up politics by taking away any conflict of interest, and it will make some people less likely to go into politics if their main reason for doing so is to sell their influence for money. So contrary to the claim it’ll prevent the best people from going into politics, it will be the worst of them who will be deterred.

    2. Paid lobbyists should be banned. Donations from companies should be banned. Elections need to be publicly funded for a half percent tax levied on everyone. Donations should only used for media expense. Donations valued at more than $500 per person. Donors must be eligible to vote. FPTP must be replaced with ballots with first, second and third choices such that when no one gets a real majority the third and then the second can be redistributed until there is a real majority winner.

      Democracy for the many, not the few

    3. Serious effort to remove opportunity for those among MPs who regard their position as a stepping stone toward ill-gotten gains would be welcome. Perhaps Mr Corbyn’s proposals are the best way to proceed.

      There is a related problem which obliging MPs to have only one source of employment may exacerbate. That is the trend towards politics being a ‘profession’, though not a learned one, rather than public service. Young people hot out of university clutching a worthless Oxford PPE, or similar from elsewhere, and sponsored to engage in the City (Conservatives) or a in trade union (Labour) for a few years whilst failing to win hopeless parliamentary seats to demonstrate fortitude and fitness for offer of a winnable seat, are the least fitted individuals to be entrusted with legislating and government.

      Ill-fitted because of their initial narrow perspective and generally mundane ambition to enter government office. Most of the few starting out with genuine vision for improving the lot of their fellow man are soon ground down to conformity within their political party apparatus. Progress depends upon good opinion of others further up the ladder. By the time somebody succeeds in flattering or backstabbing their way up the greasy pole any capacity they might once have had for creative thought is knocked out of them. Any initially broad vision becomes tunnel vision directed toward high political office. Cabinets from the Blair era onwards exemplify these assertions.

      At one time MPs were unpaid and expected to support themselves. Gradually allowances and salaries were introduced to open the doors of parliament to other than the very well off and higher professions.

      A return to part-time parliamentary activities could benefit all. As matters stand, the Commons is obsessed with being seen to do something; hence ever more legislation seemingly for the sake of it. A smaller number of days of sitting and much reduced hours of work would benefit MPs and the nation. Similarly, time spent on constituency duties is often make-work for sake of appearance.

      People actively engaged in ordinary life whether as senior managers, learned professionals, academics, owners of small business, production line supervisors, carers of children (their own or those of others), and anybody else with the necessary nous, experience of life, and established probity (only fairly certain by mid-life) could displace self-absorbed ‘professional’ politicians obsessed with the game of politics rather than its substance, and with feathering their nests.

      Only a few would need full time engagement in politics. These having key roles in day to day government. Nevertheless, the fewer the better because civil servants and other public sector workers would be more productive without constant interference by ministers, junior ministers, and other place holders. Ministers ought be forced to step back from executive roles and concentrate upon policy and monitoring its implementation.

      Rather than trying to prevent MPs from having sources of income from outside parliament it might be better to lay down regulation as to the kind of source that is acceptable.

      Taking the view that being a member of the Commons is service rather than a job leads to suggesting MPs ought not be paid beyond topping up the income of people on lower salaries than present MP pay. Similarly, allowable expenses and the degree to which they are fully met could be adjusted according to an MP’s net income from all sources.

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