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EX-MINISTER Philip Dunne is going into space travel — although his move has bigger dangers on Earth than in the heavens.
This July, Dunne started moonlighting from his job as MP for Ludlow with a £39,000-a-year role as a part-time director of Reaction Engines, which is working on a new advanced engine for “space and hypersonic travel.”
Dunne was a defence procurement minister from 2012 to 16 and after that a health minister for two years.
His former defence role could be very useful to the firm. Reaction Engines is working on rocket propulsion so that aircraft and spacecraft can reach speeds of around mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.
These could have important military applications. All the major powers are looking at the possibility of “hypersonic” warplanes in a potentially dangerous high-speed arms race.
BAE Systems is a major investor in Reaction Engines, so Dunne’s new job creates yet another friendly link between the arms firm and leading politicians.
The British government has also heavily invested in Reaction Engines — the UK Space Agency put £50 million into the project in 2015, a sum that had to go through state-aid rules before it could be approved.
So the firm having an ex-minister on board could be helpful if they seek more taxpayers’ cash.
Dunne’s space-rocket job is far from the worst example of moonlighting MPs but, aside from the outer-space elements, it’s quite typical.
Dunne says he will work just eight hours a week for Reaction Engines, but as the firm will pay him almost half as much as his MP’s salary, its interests will surely be on his mind.
While Dunne had a career in investment banking before becoming an MP, it is his political role which surely attracted Reaction Engines to him.
He is a well-connected member of the political elite — he went to Eton then Oxford, where he was a member of the Bullingdon Club, and is the son of Sir Thomas Dunne, the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire.
The New Statesman called Dunne a typical “member of the new ruling class” when the Tories were on the cusp of entering government in 2009.
Dunne never quite made it as big in politics as some predicted, but he did have significant ministerial roles: firms buying influential friends in Parliament is simply an accepted piece of British politics — accepted, that is, by the political system, though often unpopular with voters, on the rare occasions they are asked.
Dunne still did not say he was looking for second jobs when he stood for election in 2019, yet he took his space-rocket moonlighting job within a year of his re-election.
The people of Ludlow voted for him, he works for someone else and one more MP is financially connected to the arms industry.
Dunne’s Tory majority in well-to-do Shropshire is pretty firm — the seat briefly fell to the Lib Dems in 2010, but has otherwise been solidly blue, so admitting he only wanted to be a part-time MP would probably not have done much to stop him entering the Commons.
Even so, Dunne followed the parliamentary convention of simply not discussing his extra-parliamentary work with voters.
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