The lobbying scandal will not harm parliamentarians when trust in them is already low

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The writer is director of the John Smith Center at the University of Glasgow and a former leader of the Scottish Labor Party

Dominic Raab was the first to say this during the morning media round. But quickly enough the phrase “in the end, the voters will decide” became the reference line when British MPs went on the air to defend their colleague Geoffrey Cox, who is facing backlash for earning hundreds of thousands of pounds for advising. the British Virgin Islands. .

The line is rooted in a calculation that “voters” don’t expect better from their politicians. Those that suggest the lobbying scandal which forced the resignation of conservative politician Owen Paterson (and the debate on outside interests) will cause a crisis of confidence in politics and politicians will misunderstand our relationship with them.

Confidence in politicians has waned after the latest economic slump and another fall since Brexit, but we have long held low opinion of those who lead us.

Healthy skepticism is probably a good thing. Countries with excessively high levels of trust in their politicians tend to be dictatorships or other regimes that we do not aspire to imitate. However, the evidence is also clear that steady low levels of trust in politicians lead to a culture where we expect laws to be broken and rules disobedient.

It is true that Cox has increased his share of votes in Torridge and West Devon since winning the Liberal Democrat seat in 2005, rising from 43 to 60 per cent in 2019. Perhaps this is best explained by the increase in the Conservative vote and the decline turning Lib Dem into fortunes on any appetite its constituents have for its legal work.

However, trust data is not that simplistic. While it is generally low, it is also unequal, with women and low-income people the least confident of the people who lead them.

At the John Smith Center, we study the relationship between the public and its politicians. Our latest report, written with the IPPR, highlighted that someone earning over £ 60,000 a year was three times more likely to believe politicians were working in their interests than someone earning between £ 10,000 and £ 20,000 a year. Red Wall MPs should be wary.

While the center does not take a position on whether parliamentarians should have a second job, we are interested in asking a few questions about their primary jobs.

Is being a member of parliament actually a legally recognized job? Is there a specification with clearly defined roles and responsibilities? No. Do parliamentarians have a certain number of annual leave days? No. Agreed schedules? No. A clause that says they must work exclusively for their constituents and no one else? No. Do they have clear maternity / paternity rights and adequate coverage in the event of long-term sick leave? No.

If there is an imbalance on the rights side of the ledger, it’s no surprise to see that the accountability side falls short when it comes to disciplinary policy, expenses, and conflicts of interest.

The question of second jobs and the growing concern for parliamentarians to hire consultancy activities that circumvent the margins of lobbying rules highlight a structural problem in our political system, which has long been in need of modernization.

The remote delegation and voting system introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic had great potential to diversify the types of people running for parliament, for example by allowing those with care responsibilities to contemplate political life. In a national survey we conducted earlier this year on public attitudes towards remote parliaments and the vote, 64% thought this would mean that MPs in rural constituencies could do a better job. 61% thought it would lead to more women in parliament. We suspect their definition of “rural” did not extend to the British Virgin Islands.

If the government is relying on the idea that people hold politicians so low that recent revelations won’t shift the dial significantly, they may be right. If there is no price to pay, the scandal can be overcome. But when the prime minister is forced to deny that he is leading a corrupt country on the world stage, it is a clear sign that voters deserve and should expect better.

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