Should we expect better from Labour MPs in Staffordshire?

Following the row over George Osborne’s “sixth job” I thought it would be interesting to check out how his several jobs impact on his attendance at parliament.

It’s surprising to many that there is no actual parliamentary rule that requires an MP to attend parliament. This is left entirely to the parties that they represent to enforce. If an MP in a safe seat chooses to only attend parliament once a year then it’s up to the Party, in George’s case the Tory Party, to bring that MP to account.

There’s also no way of checking whether an MP has actually attended parliament beyond looking at their voting, debate, and written questions records, which again will surprise some people. 

These records however can be checked and are freely available via the Public Whip and the They Work for You websites and the figures used here are those recorded up to the 19th March 2017.

In George Osborne’s case his parliamentary record stands at:

Votes Attended: 163 out of 454

Debates: 12 

Written Answers: 0

A pretty sorry record, and one he’ll struggle to defend with a new constituency when his seat goes under the Boundary Review. 

Having looked at the record of our former Chancellor, I thought it would be interesting to compere this with MPs that represent the county in which I live, Staffordshire. 

I included Tristram Hunt in this as the MP that served for the majority of the Parliament so far, rather than current Stoke Central MP Gareth Snell, who has been in the job around five minutes.

The figures make interesting reading. The “busiest” MP in Staffordshire appears to be Tory Christopher Pincher based solely on his voting record, and, as you would expect Tristram Hunt comes bottom having resigned his seat. 

But combine the values of the three areas, and a different picture emerges, though sadly not a positive one for Labour. This can be seen in the chart below.

Despite a lower voting record than Pincher, Jeremy Lefroy comes out on top, with Michael Fabricant a close second by stint of debates attended and questions asked. Bottom of the pile is Labour’s Paul Farrelly with former MP Tristram Hunt, only just above him. As Hunt resigned parliament in January this was rather surprising. The two other Labour MP’s bring up the rear and then it’s a gradual incline of Tories who fill the top eight spaces of the twelve MPs.

Naturally this doesn’t tell the whole story. MPs have a range of parliamentary and party activities they undertake on top of the activities recorded here. Many sit on parliamentary committees for example.

But arguably, these figures are a pointer to a wider picture, and when it comes to headlines during the next election, or as MPs start seeking a seat following the boundary review, it’s these figures that people will focus on, particularly in seats with very low majorities such as Paul Farrelly’s Newcastle under Lyme. 

As a party, nationally and locally, Labour really can’t afford to allow any area that leaves itself open to accusations of not representing the electorate, especially as we move into an uncertain future post Brexit.

As Labour members and activists it’s clear we should be pushing the Labour Party to expect more from our MPs. This is especially true here in Staffordshire, as the figures above make for some grim reading so far. 

During the next election, we’ll be defending these figures on the doorstep in areas that will take some defending, and so the message to our MPs must be clear from this point forward. Raise your game, and please give us something to work with, because we may stand or fall on your record in parliament.

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Osborne and Very Little Change 

There’s nothing quite like a political story involving money to get the chatterers going, and this week, we had not one, but two, if you exclude the new rules on MPs paying public money to family members.

The first, and most tantalising, was the announcement that the Tories had received a record fine of £70,000 for “significant failures”  in the reporting of electoral expenses. 

The Tories squirmed as even Theresa May couldn’t evade the questions of how 20 MPs and her party treasurer started looking over their shoulders for blue clad hands feeling thier collars. 

Channel 4, long on the trail of dodgy Tory accounting, led the chase, with the baying hounds of the press pack picking up the scent some time later. Even the noses of the faithful old bloodhounds at the BBC started to twitch for a few hours before settling down and going back to sleep. 

Then, lo and behold, a new fox bolted from the undergrowth as Gorgeous George rode to the rescue with another job and a bulging pay packet to deflect the outrage. 

As the brand shiny new editor of the London Evening Standard, George explained how he will carry out this, as well as his role as an MP, and as an advisor with Blacrock Investments.

“How will you have the time?” the pack howled, with many on the Labour benches calling for him to vacate his seat. 

“Easy peasy” says Three Jobs George “I’ll just carry on doing what I’m doing now” and it really is that simple.

A quick look at his parliamentary record since 2015 tells you the former Chancellor has spoken in just 12 debates as an MP this term and his voting record stands at just under a measly 36%. Hardly the record of the busiest MP on the block. 

The question shouldn’t be how will he do both roles but when did he fit in the time to be an MP anyway. It’s also a question that should have been asked some time ago?

His new job as editor of the L.E.S. won’t interfere with his duties as an MP so much as possibly interfering with the other money making activities he abandons his constituency for. Alongside his £162,000 a quarter job at Blackrock these include:

  • £69,992 for a one hour speech for SIFMA
  • £28,454.40 for a three speech for the Hoover Institution, Stanford University
  • £81,174 and £60,578 for two speeches (seven hours) for J.P. Morgan
  • £80,240.16 for a two hour speech for Palmex Derivatives
  • £85,396.24 for two speeches (three hours) for Citi
  • £68,125.35 for a two hour speech for Centerbridge Partners
  • £51,328.50 for a one hour speech for Aberdeen Asset Management
  •  £68,493.15 for a three hour speech for ITP Publishing
  • £51,829.26 for a two hour speech for HSBC
  •  £40,567 for a three hour speech for St James’s Wealth Management
  • £51,082 for a three hour speech for VOKA (Flanders Chamber of Commerce and Industry)
  •  £15,081 for a three hour speech for Lloyds Bank International 

    On top of this George gets a nice little respite from his constituency duties whilst carrying out his role as a Kissinger Fellow at the McCain Institute. A fellowship that gives him a sweet £120,000 top up to his already bulging bank account. 

    No doubt George’s new career in journalism will spark yet another debate about MPs second jobs, and no doubt those in favour (usually Tories) will trot out the same tired old examples of the part time doctor, or the army reservist, who combine their glorious careers as a representative of democracy with the day to day struggle of keeping in touch with ordinary folk, but these examples are few and far between. 

    An analysis by the Guardian in 2014 found that over 20 MPs had earned more from second jobs than their work as an MP, and research in 2015/16 by Transparency International showed no sign of this slowing down. Many of these ‘second jobs” usually involve an MP being a Director or Board Member of a global financial institution oddly.

    I’ve yet to see an MP undertake a second job as a Bar Tender or a Care Worker for minimum wage just to make ends meet, as many of their constituents have to do week in week out. 

    As George’s inspiring tail from riches to riches shows, being an MP can prove to be a lucrative business. The right profile, with the right connections, can earn an MP millions on top of their basic wage for very little effort in either job they undertake. That’s not to say there aren’t some very hardworking MPs, but the system allows for it not to be a given.

    As there are no parliamentary rules that require an MP to actually attend parliament, then you could argue, why should an MP in a very safe seat even bother turning up at all. 

    George won’t be the last MP to be to have his income from secondary employment scrutinized by the media, particularly if the suggested rule changes are ever enforced.

    The Tory expenses story also has some way to go no doubt, though the likelihood of a raft of by-elections and the loss of a Tory majority, is so far beyond the realms of fantasy that it’s hardly worth a mention. MPs will blame the Central Party in faux outrage and a few election agents may get a slap on the wrist, but that’s about it.

    It’s no surprise then that some MPs, and the political parties they represent, are willing to bend the rules on spending caps during elections for the promise of greater riches. 

    The chances of getting caught, combined with the £70,000 fine imposed, will be seen by the Tory party, as little more than the price of doing business. Especially when one of it’s MPs can earn the same amount for an hours speech to a group of international bankers on a company outing. 

    Don’t blame it on the First Minister

    From the day that the UK voted to leave the EU, Nicola Sturgeon was always going to argue for a second referendum on Scottish Independence. It was as inevitable as a Tory Prime Minister failing to answer a question at PMQs. 

    If recent polls are a guide then in all likelihood the result of a second referendum in Scotland will see the break up of the Union and the Conservative and Unionist Party will only have themselves to blame. 

    Scotland has been treated like an irritating poor relation by the Tories for decades.

    It’s therefore no surprise, that with the UK facing an uncertain future over Brexit, the SNP would grab with both hands the opportunity to try again to fulfill their ideological dreams for the second time. 

    There’ll be much hand wringing in the Tory party and cries of disgust at the thought of Scotland seeking a different path, but at the end of the day they only have themselves to blame. 

    It was the arrogance of the Tory party that led to the first Scottish referendum and it’s the arrogance of the Tory party over the Brexit negotiations that enables Sturgeon to act in what she sees as her best chance of wrestling Scotland away from control of Westminster.

    In May last year David Cameron said that “Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice – stability and strong Government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband”

    Less than a year later, he and his party have created the very chaos that enables the SNP to once again seek a referendum on Scottish independence, and this time they won’t have the Labour Party to ride to their rescue. 

    Newcastle under Lyme Voting Patterns

    Messing around looking at voting patterns and decided to look at the voting statistics for Newcastle under Lyme between 2001 – 2015
    Conservative 5196 increase
    UKIP 6658 increase
    Green 1246 increase
    Lib Dem 4167 decrease
    Labour  4130 decrease
    Are we now more right wing than at the beginning of the millennium? Interestingly the Lib Dem vote was steadily increasing until 2015 (and I suspect will go up again in 2020) and the Green vote stays pretty much consistent when they run a candidate. 
    The real worry though, is that as the Tory and Ukip vote has steadily grown, the Labour vote has collapsed, leaving us with a majority of just 650.  Worrying times but what’s the answer?

    Poor old Jeremy Clarkson

    There’s something undeniably sad about Jeremy Clarkson and his latest bout of BBC fisticuffs. Having built a career on controversy whilst occasionally mumbling on how fast a metal box on wheels can move, he’s reached a point where he’s become a living parody of himself.

    Like the punch drunk boxer that’s taken one too many blows to the head to function in a circus, Clarkson now lurches and sways from one self obsessed banality to another.

    Encouraged by a braying pack of balloons that bob up and down in his egotistical wake Clarkson no longer seems able to get by without a regular fix of unconvincing childishness followed by whining apology delivered with barely concealed glee  at his own cleverness for showing the world he’s still got what it takes to be a  contender.

    The question of whether Clarkson is likely to be sacked by the BBC is largely irrelevant. Clarkson will continue to peddle his wares of inane ramblings across our TV screens regardless of the circumstances of his latest dust up. It’s a universal truth that the “talent” gets to dictate the terms and Clarkson’s talent for convincing broadcasters that a conversation best left to three bores in a pub on a Sunday afternoon is entertainment is undeniable.

    How much longer Clarkson can keep up his look at me foot stamping to boost his collateral is anyone’s guess, but it’s a tactic that’s wearing as thin as his hairline.

    Perhaps it’s finally time someone took the poor soul gently away and let him see out his days in peace and quiet rather than allowing him to continue to make a mockery of both his career and himself.

    Or, as he once so famously suggested in relation to to public sector workers, perhaps he should finally be “taken outside and shot”, but not in front of his family, that would be too cruel.

    Plebs can you spare some change?

    The longest running “did he / didn’t he” saga in the history of recent politics has not been kind to Andrew Mitchell. Having to stand down as a Minister to fight his court case, along with month’s of speculation can’t have been easy on the poor chap.

    Today’s announcement  he has finally reached a settlement to pay a police officer £80,000 in damages has finally brought to an end one more chapter in the “Plebgate” tale.

    Already out of a job and now further out of pocket, Mitchell may find it a struggle to come up with the cash for his four letter expletive that no one thought, least of all a respective judge, was big or clever.

    It’s not easy to feel too sorry for the disgraced former Minister however, not least because finding the cash shouldn’t be that difficult for him.

    A quick check of Mitchell’s  register of interests  indicate he’s pocketed a tidy £75,000 in only 11 days from just one of his “second jobs”. This on top of his £67,000 salary as an MP since his “resignation” obviously.

    £80,000? It’s all in a fortnights work.

     

    hang on that looks bad……

    As the whirlwind surrounding the HSBC tax scandal (here) begins to diminish ahead of the General Election, at which point is it likely that David Cameron stopped and thought to himself “hang on, that looks bad”

    It’s a phrase that he has had every right to say to himself on several occasions during his tenure as PM, but particularly so during the storm of public denials, apologies, recriminations and accusations over HSBC.

    But when, if at all, did Cameron’s “hang on, that looks bad” moment come?

    Was it at the point when he was told his government had been handed the HSBC data in May 2010? (here)

    Perhaps it was when he had to defend his personal appointment of the former head of HSBC Lord Green as a minister to his government in January 2011? (here)

    It might even have been when it was pointed out to him his government had been told by the then head of HMRC David Hartnett in September 2011

    “I think the whole nation probably knows that our department has a disc from the Swiss – from the Geneva branch of a major UK bank – with 6,000 names, all ripe for investigation.” (here)

    Or did Cameron’s personal “hang on, that looks bad” moment come, if at all, at the point he remembered that he had helped to complete the HMRC / HSBC circle by rubber stamping David Hartnett’s appointment as an HSBC advisor in January 2013 (here) before cheerfully waving goodbye to Green’s eyebrow raising ministerial career (here) less than a year later?

    Whatever the eventual outcome of the HSBC scandal, or the impact that it will have on Cameron’s future in May if any, “oh hang on, that looks bad” sums up much of his time as PM.