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OVER a quarter of Tory MPs are caught with their snouts in the corporate trough and public disgust at this collective display of greed has trimmed the government’s polling lead and even put Keir Starmer’s Labour a fraction ahead.
Boris Johnson’s super-sensitive nose for public opinion took him to No 10 on the back of his “Get Brexit Done” slogan but now, it seems, the efficacy of his olfactory organ has deserted him.
The consequence of Owen Paterson’s well-deserved defenestration is that Johnson is looking dangerously isolated in the Parliamentary Tory Party.
His latest manoeuvre — forced on him by the outcry over Paterson’s bare-faced lobbying for firms that were bunging him a cool hundred grand a year — is to propose that MPs be banned from paid work as parliamentary strategists, advisers or consultants.
In a nod towards constituency anger, any outside engagements must not hinder MPs from providing a “reasonable standard” of service to the people who elected them.
In a sense, this is a meaningless gesture. Sure, lots of Tories (and even a handful of Labour MPs) have second jobs. But the whole point of being a Tory MP is to represent the interests of capital over labour.
They do this job unburdened by any sense that there is a contradiction between being elected to represent their constituents — who are almost exclusively paid far less than them — and shilling for big business and the banks.
Most people in Britain earn less than a third of an MP’s wage and millions subsist on less.
In pocketing more than 80 grand (plus a subsidised canteen and expenses) a year, MPs are in the top 5 per cent of earners, and it is a rare Tory MP whose assets have accumulated purely on the back of their parliamentary pay or who live solely on this.
There is a seamless web of mutual interest, share ownership, family wealth and the almost unthinking solidarity that binds the propertied classes in a community of rents, profits and interests.
Johnson’s forced demarche means a good number of Tory MPs will end up in reduced circumstances, while the problem for the Whips’ Office is that policing the new rules will throw up an unending trail of difficult cases.
The examples where MPs rent out their paid-for London residences while charging the public purse for the rent on the homes they actually occupy has revealed just how inventive they can be in subverting the rules when private gain is entailed.
Inflation is rising in a situation where pent-up wage demand — the inevitable outcome of a decade of austerity and wage freezes — is driving a new mood of worker militancy that is acquiring a sharpened edge of moral indignation which this parliamentary scandal is doing nothing to blunt.
This is laid over a contempt for Parliament to which the not-forgotten expenses scandals has added a growing sense that MPs are way out of step with the public mood.
This is a danger for the Tories, but real problems lie in wait for Labour if it doesn’t tune in to the public mood and give voice to the demands of working people.
Curbing banking profits; taking utilities, freight and public transport back into public ownership; reversing the creeping privatisation of the NHS; and restoring the benefits levels that working people pay for over their entire lives are issues that must be woven into Labour’s pitch to the people.
Politics, especially class politics, is not a waiting game and the growing movement outside of Parliament will not be content with the passivity of the parliamentary Labour leadership.
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