The issue of MPs’ second jobs continues to dominate the news cycle, with stories of sleaze and scandal followed by attempts from Labour and the Conservatives to introduce new rules on what parliamentarians can and can’t do ‘on the side’ of their work representing their constituents.
But what do the British public think that MPs ought to be permitted to do in terms of earning extra income? A new YouGov survey finds strong public opposition to some – but not all – types of alternative employment for MPs.
For example, while the public are clear that it is ‘unacceptable’ for an MP to also work to advise foreign government (67%, with just 10% saying it is acceptable), they are split on whether MPs should be allowed to work as a lawyer or barrister (35% acceptable vs 40% unacceptable), to give after dinner speeches (35% vs 40%), or to hold another elected position such as a local councillor (36% vs 37%).
Meanwhile, the public are generally supportive of MPs working as doctors or nurses (63% acceptable, 17% unacceptable), or working privately as authors or academics (59% vs 18%).
There is a strong sense, however, that MPs should not be involved in working for or on behalf of private companies while in office – particularly those engaged with bidding for government contracts.
Fully 80% say it is unacceptable for MPs to be paid to give advice to private companies trying to win government contracts, or for them to be directly employed to help companies win them. Just 4-6% find these scenarios acceptable.
Over three quarters (77%) say it is unacceptable for MPs to be employed to give advice to companies on lobbying parliament, while 60% think it is unacceptable for MPs to be employed by businesses as a consultant.
Likewise, 61% of Britons think it is not acceptable for MPs to be employed on company boards, and 63% think it is unacceptable for them to be employed to give companies “strategic advice”.
Opposition to certain types of second jobs cuts across party and EU referendum lines. For example, 84% of 2019 Labour voters consider it unacceptable for MPs to be giving advice to companies on how to lobby parliament, along with 80% of 2019 Conservative voters. The same is true of 82% of Leave voters compared to 84% of Remainers. A majority of all age groups hold the same position, though older people are more likely than younger people to think the practice unacceptable.