There was widespread shock and outrage in Westminster last week at reports that some Members of Parliament are employing people who are not family members. Instead of hiring wives, children and girlfriends as researchers and secretaries, these rogue MPs have been advertising posts in the press and inviting qualified people to apply for them.
The so-called “skilled workers” are then selected on merit after job interviews and are paid public money to do important political work in parliament, like researching legislation and answering letters from constituents. The move breaks centuries of tradition in which MPs pay large sums of tax-payer’s money to members of their own families who do virtually no work at all.
“It’s a diabolical liberty”, said one MP who did not want to be named. “We’ve always paid our relatives to work for us because we can keep an eye on them and it means we can double up on their salaries. If MPs start hiring ordinary members of the public, they might actually start getting the right people for the job. Then where would we be?”
The Speaker of the Commons, Michael Martin, has ordered a full scale inquiry into the “jobs-for-skills” scandal. “We can’t allow members to act in such an irresponsible manner” said a source close to the Speaker’s office. “Hiring people with good qualifications will only bring parliament further into disrepute and cause embarrassment to MPs by revealing how incompetent they are.”
Under the codes of secrecy that operate in the House of Commons, MPs do not have to publish their expenses or details of whom they employ in their offices. However, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith says she employs her husband as her parliamentary assistant on £30,000, as does the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, and MPs like Peter Hain and Sir Stuart Bell.
The Tory MP Derek Conway paid his sons Freddie and Henry more than £80,000 over three years to work as parliamentary researchers while they were both full time students. Colourful Henry described himself as “blond, bouncy and one for the boys”. It is argued that parliament would become a much duller place if these jobs were given to boring responsible people who did in depth parliamentary research instead of spending their time organising parties with titles like “F*uck of, I’m Rich”.
But government sources last night poured cold water on the jobs-for-skills scandal. Said one: “It’s not the government’s job to tell MPs whom to employ. Asking Members of Parliament to give jobs to people who could actually do them would be contrary to natural justice. It would discriminate against public school hooray Henries who can’t do anything else. Moreover, professional staff would turn MPs into a damn nuisance. Nepotism has always been the British way - we like to keep it in the family”.