Ed Miliband secured a clear win at prime minister’s questions today. He had set a trap for the prime minister, and David Cameron fell into it.
It was the second jobs trap. Normal people have second jobs because they are on minimum wage and cannot pay the rent. The reasons members of parliament have second jobs was the subject of some debate at PMQs.
It was the behaviour of former foreign secretaries Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind that sparked the debate. They were secretly filmed by Channel 4 offering to use their influence to benefit a fictitious Chinese company – if they were paid upwards of £5000 a day.
Ed Miliband suggested that ‘the reputation of every member of this house was damaged’ by what they had done. Labour has now asked for a motion to be voted on tonight to stop MPs holding paid directorships or consultancies. Miliband had heard that the prime minister might not be voting in favour.
‘Is he,’ asked Miliband. ‘proposing no change to the current system?’
Cameron flailed saying he thought what the foreign secretaries had done was very bad, but he had introduced the Transparency of Lobbying Act to stop that sort of thing.
Miliband pointed out that in 2009 before he was elected Cameron had said, ‘Double-jobbing MPs won’t get a look in when I’m in charge’. ‘What’s changed?’, asked Miliband.
Cameron replied that you could not allow someone to be a trade union official on the one hand, while banning someone who wanting to run a family business.
Yes, dear readers, getting paid thousands of pounds a day to lobby for a foreign company you know nothing about, or holding a directorship in a large defence firm, private health company or Russian oil corporation has become ‘running a family business’. But let’s leave that to one side.
Ok said Miliband. I’ll include paid trade union officials into the motion, ‘Say yes and we can restore the reputation of this house.’
At this point it was clear – though you could not see if from where I was – that the Labour MP Clive Efford was getting very agitated. ‘Mr Efford’, said the speaker of the house, ‘Calm yourself, get a grip. I fear you might explode’.
Cameron changed tack as you do when you are losing an argument and started to attack Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, for earning, as a college lecturer, more than the 10 per cent cap on earnings that Miliband has suggested for MPs. The Tories always like to try and claim Hunt for their own.
We are making progress, declared Miliband. We will include paid trade union officials, paid consultant and paid directorships. ‘I repeat the offer. Let’s agree this to restore the reputation of the House’.
Cameron had no reply. He just went more puce and repeated his line about family businesses and trade union officials. By this time Miliband knew he had won. He really looked animated. He smelled and enjoyed success. The bully was cornered. ‘You can vote for two jobs or vote for one. What will you be voting for?’ asked Miliband.
Cameron tried to say the Labour party was owned by the trade unions again. Miliband was fierce and strong in his reply: ‘Talk about a [Tory] party bought and sold by the hedge funds, which appointed a self-confessed tax avoider as its treasurer.’
The whole exchange left Labour MPs in a happy mood. Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield said: ‘I’ve asked this before and I’ll ask it again. How many jobs should an MP have?’ Gavin Shuker, Luton South, pointed out that United States congressmen have an earnings cap of 15 per cent. ‘Why is it appropriate for them and not for us?’ John Cryer, Leyton and Wanstead, said the Lobbying Act had done nothing to stop vast commercial lobbyists.
Tory MPs on the other hand were gloomily asking questions handed out by the whips about infrastructure and the ‘long term economic plan’. One older Tory did not even try to wrap the question up with good news from his constituency, which is the usual form.
Only the father of the House Tory Sir Peter Tapsell was prepared to defend David Cameron. He said if people were not allowed second jobs membership of the House of Commons would be reduced to ‘inheritors of substantial fortunes’, people who had married into large fortunes, ‘obsessive crackpots and people who were unemployable anywhere else’.
It was not enough to save the day for the prime minister. Ed Miliband had, as we say in these pre-election combative times, scored a direct hit.