MP for Edinburgh North and Leith
What is the UK becoming?
All eyes are on the House of Commons following the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal. While serving as an MP, he was being paid £100,000 a year to lobby for the company Randox, which was ultimately awarded over £500m in Covid contracts.
We know some of these chummy Tory contracts didn’t go so well; Randox had to recall testing kits over the summer because of contamination concerns.
The UK Government whipped its MPs to vote against suspending Owen Paterson and to introduce a new panel for investigating breaches of standards in the future, which they planned would have an in-built Conservative majority.
They arrogantly assumed the vote would fly under the radar in that they were sorely mistaken. The expenses scandal being still fresh in the public’s memory a massive backlash ensued, Paterson resigned the next day and another U-turn from the UK Government was all but inevitable.
This rotten chicanery starts at the top. The British Prime Minister apparently receives an annual public grant of £30,000 to spend on his living quarters but there has been speculation the latest refurbishment cost as much as £200k which was not paid for by Boris Johnson.
His advisor on standards concluded Johnson did not break the ministerial code but had allowed the refurbishment to “proceed without more rigorous regard” for how this would be funded.
He also received a free holiday in the Spanish home of Lord Goldsmith, who was made a Tory peer after losing his elected place in the Commons in the 2019 election. Thereby retaining his ministerial role despite being rejected by his constituents at the ballot box. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or perhaps that should be a free stay in Spain.
It should go without saying that MPs should be accountable to their constituents and receive appropriate sanctions for wrongdoings. A Member of Parliament is a public servant representing the needs and opinions of their constituents.
It’s frustrating that role is not better respected by some MPs, who seem to see pound signs and somehow find the time to take on extra work on the side. These are the people who simultaneously claim that an MP’s salary is a pittance but Universal Credit is plenty for families to get by on. In fact, let’s chop £20 off it.
The UK Government’s default reaction to just about everything is to circle the wagons and look inwards.
With the cuts to overseas aid budgets and the Nationality and Borders Bill that will criminalise RNLI for rescuing drowning people, including children, we need to pause and look at what the UK is becoming.
This is a government that says, “Charity begins at home” but leaves the NHS underfunded and school children hungry. The lobbying scandal is the same thing. Circle the wagons.
This latest scandal is the last thing we need right now, at this crucial time for the planet, adding a screen of mistrust between the House of Commons and the people we represent.
At the time of writing, COP26 has entered its critical stage, one where wealthier nations are asked to put their money where their mouth is and present solid commitments and a genuine plan of action.
As we fight to save the planet the public needs to know politicians will do what they promise, not simply blurt out whatever they think people want to hear, and then ignore the climate emergency and carry on.
The killing of David Amess MP while he carried out one of the most vital jobs of an MP – holding a constituency surgery – is still uppermost in my mind.
Surgeries are a basic and essential component of our democracy and I’ve held them regularly since being elected to the City of Edinburgh Council back in 2007. In a way, it’s the purest representation of our political system. Anyone living in my constituency can come to my office and ask for help, whether they voted for me or not.
When you get down to the bare bones of the job, that’s what it’s all about. I hope the UK Government can remember that.
I doubt the public will let them forget in a hurry.
The UK Government’s default mechanism is to circle the wagons