RUSSELL BRAND HAS MORE SENSE THAN RIFKIND AND STRAW

JOHN MCGURK

Russell Brand, someone whose thoughts we would not normally pay much attention to, may well be absolutely right when he says there are no politicians worth voting for.

The latest cash for access scandal involving two former foreign secretaries — Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind – serves to remind us that even the most experienced of them appear happy to exploit the system for financial gain.

Naturally, they both deny any wrongdoing and have submitted themselves to parliamentary scrutiny but the fact remains that they have been caught by secret cameras grasping for cash in such a way that cannot fail to horrify voters.

In the case of Sir Malcolm, his bill for half a day’s work is up to £8000 while Mr Straw is slightly cheaper at £5000 a day.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of these very shabby revelations is that despite what is now a very well-worn technique of investigators inviting public figures to impale themselves in the name of greed, both men could not help themselves.

The other major significance is that while similar scandals in the past have involved pretty non-descript politicians, this one involves two big beasts of Westminster whose experience and status should have set off the alarm bells.

If this is how they can behave, God help the rest of them.

While Straw was recorded describing how he operated “under the radar” Rifkind even suggested that he wasn’t paid a salary, poor man, although he makes £67,000 a year as an MP.

Lobbying, in an attempt to influence political decision-making, has long been seen as a legitimate part of the democratic process and, very often, the lobbyists themselves are former politicians and civil servants.

Parliamentarians are allowed to take up paid directorships or consultancies although these must be declared in the register of interests.

There are rules: they are forbidden from acting as “paid advocates”, which means that they cannot accept money for speaking in parliament, asking a question, tabling a motion, introducing a bill or urging other parliamentarians to do so on their behalf.

But the problem is that the very nature of MPs holding second jobs means that they are open to corruption and conflicts of interest.

The number of MPs with second jobs is high; there are 180 of them: 112 are Tories, 43 are Labour and 15 are Lib Dems.

Here’s the rub: there is no one regulating this murky world despite what David Cameron said before the last general election in 2010 that lobbying was the “next big scandal waiting to happen.”

Alas, despite these fears, nothing has been done mainly because successive governments have disingenuously believed that politicians’ outside activities adds to their experience and knowledge.

There is, of course, a very simple solution to any prospect of politicians getting caught up in corruption and that is to ban them from holding paid directorships or consultancies.

The fact that Tony Blair, the former prime minister, rushed to Straw’s defence by reminding us of his dedication to public service, only emphasises the depth of political embarrassment as we move towards the big push for the 2015 general election.

Following the MPs expenses scandal, when we learned about the duck house and how their homes were paid for by a shocked nation, is it any wonder that trust in politicians seems to have reached a new low?

The evidence for this is very apparent.

Unemployment in Britain is at its lowest for six years; there are 31 million people in work; wages are now outstripping the cost of living thanks to significant reductions in the cost of petrol, energy and food; the cost of borrowing and mortgages has never been lower while tax revenues have never been higher.

Yet the sitting coalition government, able to claim credit for all of the above, remains hugely unpopular while the ratings for the Labour opposition, which might expect to have a huge lead in the polls, are not much better.

It has taken Russell Brand to remind us how disenchanted we are with our politicians whom he regards as frauds and liars.

He doesn’t vote and doesn’t see anybody worth voting for anyway.

“Don’t bother voting. Stop voting, stop pretending, wake up, be in reality now. Why vote?…we know it’s not going to make any difference,” he said.

Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw have done themselves and politics a huge disservice in a scandal which can only aggravate political apathy.

Brand, arguably one of the least attractive so-called celebrities in the country, has got more sense than either of them.

 

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