La opinión de The Guardian sobre la sordidez parlamentaria: perros guardianes bajo ataque

Forced on to the back foot by its failed defence of Owen Paterson, quien renunció al parlamento el jueves pasado, the government is trying to avoid reversing any further from its plan to overhaul the regime governing standards in parliament. But the issues raised over recent days are too important to be sent packing with the MP for North Shropshire, OMS repeatedly broke lobbying rules. Lord Evans, who chairs the committee on standards in public life, said last week that the proposal to put a new Tory-dominated committee in charge of MPs’ conduct “is deeply at odds with the best traditions of British democracy”. He was not exaggerating.

MPs have been told that they will, después de todo, be able to vote on the report of the standards committee that recommended Mr Paterson’s 30-day suspension. Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who chairs it, has announced that a senior judicial figure has been appointed as an adviser, following criticism of the way that Mr Paterson’s case was handled. But there is little sign, hasta aquí, that ministers are reconsidering their attitude to the second jobs held down by a quarter of all Tory MPs (and three of Labour’s), or that they plan to revise their contemptuous reaction to the thorough review of standards issued by Lord Evans’ committee earlier this month.

These are serious errors. Public trust in politicians is already low, relative to other authority figures. The prime minister may revel in his reputation for insouciance, spontaneity and clownishness. But personal popularity is no substitute for confidence in government. Already this year, la Greensill lobbying scandal has damaged the standing of one of his predecessors, David Cameron, and the civil service. Then Mr Paterson was forced out. Now Sir Geoffrey Cox, the former attorney general, is revealed to have spent a month in the Caribbean advising the British Virgin Islands in relation to corruption charges brought by the UK Foreign Office. Sir Geoffrey earns £400,000 for this work on top of his £81,932 MP’s salary.

There is a powerful case for ruling out second jobs, even if this might convince some senior members of parliament to give up their seats in favour of higher pay. This is something that must be looked at. In the short term, very strict limits should be placed on MPs’ outside earnings, and on the time that they are allowed to spend working for people other than constituents. It makes no sense, and fosters cynicism, when the public is on the one hand asked to sympathise with MPs over increased workloads (in part an effect of cuts to other services) and social media abuse, and on the other hand is told that they can do two jobs – or that £81,932 (plus allowances) isn’t enough to live on.

Examples such as Sir Geoffrey must be used to highlight, not distract from, the bigger picture. The key fact is that a strong set of recommendations on lobbying has just been made. Si es adoptado, these would strengthen the independence of the panels involved in public appointments and the ministerial code. They would also ensure that the existing ban on paid advocacy is upheld and extend the period during which former ministers and officials are banned from lobbying.

Boris Johnson’s bullish approach last week was a miscalculation. The question now is whether his critics can force him to make more than a tactical and temporary retreat. He has his own dog in this fight, having been investigated multiple times by the standards commissioner. The detail of the parliamentary oversight regime that he wants to wreck may be arcane. But the principle it stands for, that MPs must be held to account, could not be more important.

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