Gordon Brown's damaged retina has been hitting the headlines this afternoon. So taken is the BBC with the prime minister's eyesight that it is currently the leading story on the website, pushing the latest MPs' expenses story off the front page. I'm sure the appearance of the PM's story after news many MPs will be forced to pay back unjustifiable expenses claims was entirely coincidental.
But there is another parliamentary storm looking to break: second jobs. While no taxpayers were harmed in the lining of MPs' pockets by private firms, they represent a corrosive set of pressures that have no place in any form of democratic governance. First off, big pay outs for consultancies and directorships are just plain unhealthy. How can MPs be expected to investigate and regulate the activities of companies if a chunk of them are on the pay roll as part-time advisors?
Second, it makes MPs even more remote from everyday life. Take these examples from the Tory front bench. How can we be "all in it together" when some of these jokers "earn" tens of thousands for 12 days/year work? In the Tories' case, at least it has a function. This enables them to hobnob with their base in corporate boardrooms. But what about a certain West Midlands Labour MP who is paid in excess of £30,000 to fly twice a year to sunnier climes to provide "advice" about their specialist subject? Reportedly when challenged their reply was "Why would anyone object? It doesn't interfere with my parliamentary duties". Obviously this MP hasn't a clue their less-than-affluent constituents might care very much.
I'm not opposed to MPs having second jobs per se, but the rules clearly need a steam clean.