WHO knew so many Tory MPs would feel completely unapologetic about the extent of their extra-parliamentary earnings? And who would have imagined they’d trot out the lamest of excuses out for hinging on to their extra cash?

It seems some MPs find it hard to manage on their £80k plus salary? Aw diddums.

Some see parallels with other professionals who also hold down second jobs. Honestly. If MPs see themselves on a par with moonlighting medics someone should tell them that private health consultants don’t get smiled on by voters either.

If these MPs got out a bit, they’d discover that the only double or treble job-holders the public admires are the folk forced into multiple contracts just to make ends meet – underpaid care and nursing staff who would LOVE to have just one, single properly-paid job. Not MPs already earning three times the average wage.

Some like the normally astute ex-Tory spin doctor Andy McIver think the solution is to double MP salaries. Just no.

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Some MPs argue they must keep up professional qualifications for the day their star wanes, the electorate rejects them and civvy street beckons. That might be a valid argument, but sadly for departing MPs, it’s been sullied by the MPs most likely to use it – older Tories whose ultra-safe seats guarantee zero chance of an unpredictable reacquaintance with the jobs market. Thanks to first past the post, these buffers – apparently known as “the old knobs” by the young Red Wall Tory intake – are on the Commons’ green benches for life. That’s why big companies are willing to pay top dollar for their “input”. These arrogant old codgers are more of a fixture in the Commons than the ancient despatch boxes.

Take Sir Geoffrey Cox – whose island frolics transformed Owen Paterson’s flagrant rule-breaking into the more dangerous rule-bending row that now grips Westminster. With a majority of 25,000 and no chance of a Recall Petition (unless he is suspended or convicted), Geoffers would have avoided the sordid realities of unemployment for life – until he was caught basking in the Caribbean and then sun-kissed Mauritius on a full MP’s salary while renting out one of two London homes financed by the taxpayer. All perfectly legal – but all perfectly indefensible to the average gobsmacked, infuriated, onlooking voter.

Now Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer are locked in a mighty arm-wrestling competition to establish whose anti-sleaze measures are the toughest. Johnson cites the time-limits in his proposals. Starmer cites the more general application of Labour’s plans. But despite the sound and fury, claim and counter-claim, there’s no prospect of real change in a parliament that prides itself on being the world’s oldest, most lenient and permissive, gentleman’s club atmosphere with an elitist, rule-bending approach to the tawdry business of governance.

If you think that assessment is too miserable, listen again to the posturing that dominated Wednesday’s Prime Ministers’ Questions.

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Keir Starmer tried to style himself as Captain Sleazebuster – the man who has prosecuted countless chancers in his past life as Attorney General. But Boris Johnson swerved his questions and highlighted the Labour leader’s own dalliance with a second job in 2017. Starmer claims he “decided himself” not to take it, though leaked emails suggest it was Jeremy Corbyn who finally stepped in.

Johnson then had a pop at banker/crofter Ian Blackford – evidently ready to destroy public faith in ALL MPs, if that might disguise the massively disproportionate finagling by his own side.

But the SNP Westminster leader stood down from his second job in March, and Blackford’s former earnings are in any case dwarfed by Douglas three jobs Ross, king of the Scottish multiple-earners.

LibDem leader Sir Ed Davey also has form – the extra money he earned as a consultant funded care for his disabled son but has also apparently stopped.

So that’s alright then.

Except no, it blinkin isn’t.

There is no good reason for MPs or MSPs to have second jobs when their main role – producing and scrutinising legislation, representing voters and resolving their myriad problems – should take every waking moment.

The only valid exceptions are the shifts put in by MPs like breast cancer surgeon Dr Phillippa Whitford who helped out during busy holiday periods at her local hospital and on the frontline in Gaza where she volunteered to train medics. And perhaps the occasional legal case by MP/lawyers.

But really, that’s about it.

What do MPs not get?

The 1990s scandal was about MPs’ second homes.

The 2021 scandal is about MPs’ second jobs.

It’s seriously offensive for voters to watch MPs get two or three of any valuable asset that’s seriously rationed for everyone else.

It looks greedy, elitist and dodgy. Above all, having a different set of norms for MPs erodes the idea they are “representative” of the people.

LOOK at the folk who aren’t elected – the peers that pack the House of Lords.

Labour’s Shadow Attorney General Charlie Falconer, worked on a second job representing a mining company in the British Virgin Islands during the pandemic (yip, it’s a popular place for MPs). Earlier this week the Labour leader appeared to suggest Falconer would be exempt from his new second jobs ban because “the position of the House of Lords is different”. Of course, it’s different – but not in a good way.

Back in 2012, one in four Conservative peers had a financial interest in private health or care companies when they voted for a Health and Social Care Bill that essentially privatised the NHS in England. But their directorships and consultancies were declared, so that was supposedly alright.

Last year though, Open Democracy reported that 40 peers hadn’t properly recorded their outside interests, including companies they run. That’s not all right but evidently no-one cares.

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Why should they? The Upper House is an indefensible sham of a second chamber, stuffed with former Tory Party treasurers, financiers and business supporters who share an unaccountable desire to wear ermine, don wigs, get paid £300 a pop and help Boris Johnson push through whatever democracy-sapping legislation his little heart desires.

We all know there’s nothing fair or representative about the Lords.

But if MPs don’t force through a meaningful end to second paid jobs in the Commons, voters will justly conclude the same about MPs.

So, a lot hangs on what Boris and Keir do next.

Unsurprisingly, Johnson’s much vaunted “crackdown” on second jobs is nothing of the kind. He’d propose a ban on consultancy or advisory roles that specifically relate to parliament. But what about the vast amount of non-parliamentary consultancy work that still creates conflicts of interest for MPs?

So, here are a few handy tests for judging the efficacy of whatever new rules Boris finally adopts.

Will Iain Duncan Smith still be able to work for a hand sanitiser company, while chairing a government taskforce whose new rules benefit that firm?

Will Michael Gove still be able to accept money from a backer whose firm won £164m in a PPE contract after a “VIP lane” referral?

Aye right.

If there is a “crackdown” on moonlighting MPs it’ll be a Mini-Me effort.

This desperate, vacuous, rudderless British Government can do no better.