Clegg's dishonesty on tuition fees continues

"I didn't win the election" is not an excuse for breaking the pledge.

One of the main reasons why it is Labour, not the Conservatives, that has the best chance of winning a majority at the next election is the scale of the Lib Dem defection to Ed Miliband's party. Unlike in the 1980s, when the left vote was split between Labour and the SDP, the left is now largely united around Labour. One in five of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 transferred their support to Labour in the months following the formation of coalition and there is no sign of them returning. The latest YouGov poll puts Labour on 41 per cent, the Tories on 32 per cent and the Lib Dems on just 8 per cent.

It was the decision to support the tuition fees increase that was Clegg's Iraq moment, a profound breach of trust for which his party will pay dearly. Challenged on the subject on this morning's Today programme, Clegg replied that since the Lib Dems didn't win the election ["I lead a party with eight per cent of MPs"] he was unable to keep his promise to vote against any increase. "If you want the Liberal Democrat manifesto in full, vote for Liberal Democrats in larger numbers. It didn't happen," he said.

This is disingenuous. Clegg's pledge was not conditional on his party forming a government, rather it was a commitment that all Lib Dem MPs returned by the electorate would vote against any fees increase. The NUS pledge, signed by every Liberal Democrat MP, read:

I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.

So long as Clegg continues to obscure this point, there is little prospect of him winning back the lost Lib Dems.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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MP after a moonlighting job? I've got the perfect opportunity

If it's really about staying in touch with the real world, how about something menial and underpaid? Or reforming parliamentary rules on second jobs...

There she stood outside Number 10 on 13 July last year, the new Prime Minister pledging with earnest sincerity her mission to fight injustice and inequality, to “make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us”.

 “When it comes to opportunity,” she promised the ‘just managing’ millions, “we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few". Another new day had dawned

But predictably since then it’s been business as usual. If we needed proof, George Osborne has provided it: those who have so little must continue to go without so that the man with so much can have it all.

What would it take for Tory backbenchers to trouble Theresa May’s serenity? Not her u-turn on Brexit. Nor her denial of Parliament’s right to scrutinise the terms of the UK's uncertain future. Certainly not a rampant Labour opposition.

But were she to suggest that they give up their adventures in the black economy and focus on the job their constituents pay them for, she would face a revolt too bloody to contemplate.

Fifteen years ago, I introduced the short-lived Members of Parliament (Employment Disqualification) Bill. My argument was simply that being an MP is a full-time job for which MPs are paid a full-time salary. If they can find time to augment an income already three times the national average, they can’t be taking it seriously or doing it properly.

Imagine the scandal if other public servants - teachers perhaps or firefighters – were to clock off whenever they fancied to attend to their nice little earners on the side. What would become of Britain’s economy if employers were unable to prevent their workers from taking home full pay packets but turning up to work only when they felt inclined?

But that’s what happens in the House of Commons. Back in 2002, my research showed that a quarter of MPs, most of them Conservatives, were in the boardroom or the courtroom or pursuing lucrative consultancies when they should have been serving their communities. And it was clear that their extra-curricular activities were keeping them from their Parliamentary duties. For example, in the six month period I analysed, MPs with paid outside interests participated on average in only 65 per cent of Commons votes while MPs without second jobs took part in 91 per cent.

I doubt that much has changed since then. If anything, it’s likely that the proportion of moonlighting Members has risen as the number of Tory MPs has increased with successive elections.

Their defence has always been that outside interests make for better politicians, more in touch with the "real world". That’s entirely bogus. Listening to people in their surgeries or in their local schools, hospitals and workplaces provides all the insight and inspiration a conscientious MP could need. The argument would be stronger were absentee MPs supplementing their experience and income in the menial, insecure and underpaid jobs so many of their constituents are forced to do. But, they aren’t: they’re only where the money is.

It’s always been this way. The Parliamentary timetable was designed centuries ago to allow MPs to pursue a gentleman’s interests. Until relatively recently, the Commons never sat until after noon so that its Members could attend their board meetings – or edit the Evening Standard - and enjoy a good lunch before legislating. The long summer recess allowed them to make the most of the season, indulge in a few country sports and oversee the harvest on their estates.

The world has changed since Parliamentary precedent was established and so has the now overwhelming workload of a diligent MP. There are many of them in all parties. But there are also still plenty like George Osborne whose enduring sense of entitlement encourages them to treat Parliament as a hobby or an inheritance and their duty to their constituents as only a minor obstacle to its enjoyment.

Thanks to Osborne’s arrogance, the Committee on Standards in Public Life now has the unflunkable opportunity to insist on significant, modernising reforms which remind both MPs and their electors that public service should always take precedence over private interest. And if sitting MPs can’t accept that principle or subsist on their current salary, they must make way for those who can. Parliament and their constituents would be better off without them.

Peter Bradley was the Labour MP for The Wrekin between 1997 and 2005.