It’s not often that I am shocked to the core, but the Tim Yeo affair has left my gob truly smacked. Did I hear him correctly on tape boasting that he told a business colleague what questions his select committee was going to ask? Forgive me but if that’s not coaching then my cock’s a kipper.
But what is so bollock clenchingly sphincter rattlingly awful is why didn’t the whips office step in years ago, or more worrying, why didn’t the members of the select committee take action? Didn’t anybody think to tell David Cameron that this was a disaster waiting to happen?
It is beyond belief.
Paul Goodman has put forward a very sensible suggestion that select committee chairman should not have paid interests which could conflict with their duties. I would go further. No member of a select committee should have paid interests which could conflict with their duties. In my naïveté I honestly believed that this was the case already. It may not be in the rules, but it is just common sense.
It’s the right thing to do.
What is so remarkable is that Yeo’s interests were well known for years. Guido and Iain Dale have been banging on about it for rather a long time. Yet nobody took a blind bit of notice. What none of us knew was the sheer scale of his trousering. When you add up the share options and cash in hand it is not far off a million quid. Now, Yeo earns about £67k as an MP and an extra £14,582 as a committee chairman. It’s not up to city standards but it's hardly up shit creek without a paddle.
And if I hear another MP moaning about the pay I will scream. Yes it’s hardish, dull repetitive work with unsocial hours and precious little thanks from a fickle and ungrateful public. But boys and girls that’s the choice you made. Nobody twisted your arm to be an MP and most of you plotted, schemed and dreamed of nothing else for years.
Oh, and if I hear another little piggy caught on the telly by a journo sting proclaiming innocence because they didn’t break the rules I will bite my own head off.
And here lies the problem. We can have a register of lobbyists, we can tighten the rules, we can have draconian watchdogs, we can even have recall. But it won’t make a shred of difference if people are prepared to think of new dodges. And unless the culture of, "I’m a Parliamentarian I’ve sweated and slaved for my constituents so I’m entitled to make a few few bob on the side" disappears, whatever credibility (which is not a lot) politicians have will be lost and the country will sleepwalk towards the worst sort of shysterism from the likes of UKIP.
But enough of the ghastliness and greed of some of our politicians, there is another agenda which is rather worrying. The press are utterly terrified of a world post Leveson and will do anything to prevent it. So I suspect these stings are a gentle reminder to the public that if there is over regulation of the press these sort of stories would never come to light. Well, up to a point Lord Copper.
What troubles me is that I suspect that the damage to the reputation of politicians is irreparable in the immediate future. There is a danger that there will be a move to select Parliamentary Taliban, humourless squeaky clean zealots of propriety. God it will be dull. And rather scary.
I don’t want our tribunes to live the lives of monks and nuns. I just want them too behave with a little common sense and decency even if it is not in the rules.
If they don’t we might as well just hand the whole show over to big business. Let them sponsor the bloody lot. G4S can fund the Justice Committee. RBS Treasury. And Health? The Cooperative Funeral Service of course.
This piece first appeared on Jerry Hayes's blog.