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8 November 2021

Why Boris Johnson doesn’t want to ban MPs from having second jobs

If MPs’ outside earnings are restricted, the Prime Minister will find it even harder to maintain Conservative Party discipline.

By Stephen Bush

When Owen Paterson resigned from his seat on 5 November, he spared his Conservative parliamentary colleagues the embarrassment of being made to walk through one set of division lobbies to prevent his suspension on the Wednesday and another set of division lobbies to enact it the following Tuesday. The fallout, however, continues. The Conservative Party has fallen in the polls, and Boris Johnson’s approval rating has also declined.  

I wouldn’t get too excited about the changes in voting intention – but I would, if I were a Conservative MP, be anxious about the underlying shifts in Johnson’s approval rating and the standing of the party more generally.  

What would also worry me, were I a government whip, is the risk of this ending in a clampdown on MPs’ second jobs and other forms of income. The Guardian has helpfully collated 30 of the MPs who could be affected by a consultancy ban. The first point any eagle-eyed reader will notice is how much easier the politics of this is for Keir Starmer than Johnson: the only Labour MP on the Guardian’s list is Khalid Mahmood, a veteran who is in any case disaffected with the leadership. The other thing an eagle-eyed reader will notice is how many of the Conservatives – who make up the vast majority of the list – are former ministers.  

Ask any whip what keeps them awake at night and which MPs give them the most hassle, and the answer will often be “former ministers”. They are politicians who have less to lose through disloyalty and, sometimes, a lot to gain by bringing about the swift end of the current leadership. Second jobs and consultancies have long been a way for former ministers to replace their lost ministerial salaries. If Johnson’s bungled handling of the Paterson affair ends up with a reduction in their ability to make money through part-time work, he may find that reversals in the House of Commons become more regular than he would like.  

[See also: We cannot rely on shame to hold politicians like Owen Paterson and Rob Roberts to account]

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