Unpacking the recent accusations of MP sleaze can be a long and messy process. It’s entangled with confusing economic arrangements with big corps, concealed payments, lobbying, and loopholes in the system.

For most of us, it’s hard to get our heads around what is actually going on in the Houses of Parliament. This makes it unclear where to draw the line on the moral obligations we expect from our MPs and what constitutes corruption. For some, questionable behaviour by MP’s can be excused by the fact that they have not technically broken any laws by taking advantage of the loopholes. Others argue that it is a low bar to set for morality by saying they’re not breaking the law and that anytime where an MP’s personal interest conflicts with that of the public, constitutes corruption.

What’s been going on?

  • Tory MP, Owen Paterson has been found to have been lobbying on the behalf of two companies paying him over £100,000 a year
  • Cross-party groups of MPs have received hidden payments from drug companies in the pharmaceutical industry’s pursuit to gain advantages by policy making
  • It has been revealed that Tory MP, Geoffrey Cox has earned at least £6m from his second job since entering parliament, calling into question Cox’s commitment to his job as an MP
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg may have broken finanical rules for MPs by failing to declare that he got £6m in cheap loans from one of his companies

These cases have caused a row within Parliament over how MP’s integrity is maintained.

After a push from the opposition, PM, Boris Johnson has proposed to update the code of conduct for MPs for it to continue “to command the confidence of the public”. He proposes a ban on MPs acting as paid consultants or lobbyists, and also a censure on MPs who do not prioritise their constituents.

The whole point of being an MP is to represent the public’s interest over your own. An MP’s personal economic interests should be set aside when on the job in Parliament. MP’s using their position to enrich themselves is exploiting the system. Especially with the backdrop of rising inflation, energy costs and cuts in universal credit, a proportion of society is being squeezed, while it seems some in Parliament are milking the system.

Half of UK adults believe MPs should solely focus on their job. MPs having second jobs can undermine their role as representing their constituents and raising issues in the House on their behalf. An MP’s job is a full-time job, serving the public is complex and time-consuming enough, there should be little room for any other work.

The MPs code of conduct declares it is “strictly forbidden” to take payments for initiating parliamentary proceedings, voting, or approaching ministers and other members on the behalf of a third party. In Paterson’s case, his actions were described as an “egregious case of paid advocacy” in a report approved by a group of cross-party MPs on the standards committee. 

On top of this, another report has found pharmaceutical companies to have a hidden web of policy influence by making secretive payments to health-related all-party parliamentary groups (APPG). As MPs are in public office, their actions should be transparent. Taking “hidden” payments of course undermines their duty to be transparent with the public. The authors of the report highlight, APPG’s taking substantial income from pharmaceutical companies shows policymaking in the interests of public health to be at risk of being influenced by the interests of the pharmaceutical industry’s goal of maximising profits.

The public deserves to have the confidence that MPs are standing for their best interest and not that of private companies. MPs have a duty to keep their integrity by serving the public first in their job.

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