OPINION: Why second jobs should be allowed

Insisting that politicians have no paid outside interests would shrink the talent pool of those interested in contributing to public life considerably, says Deputy Peter Roffey


THERE’S a big brouhaha in the UK at the moment about whether MPs should be permitted to have second jobs.

Lots of self-righteous commentators are opining that members of parliament should be 100% committed to representing their constituencies, with no outside interests to distract them. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not sure I entirely agree.

Certainly being an MP is a hugely responsible role and one that should be taken very seriously, both in terms of the time spent on the job and the passion people should bring to it. But I tend to think that if we are going to tell wannabe politicians that if they are elected then all their other interests will need to be foregone, we are going to put off some of the most talented, original and interesting minds from getting involved in public life.

Those with a deep, enduring and entrenched interest in science, business, health care, education, journalism, industry or whatever may have much to give to parliament and would make it an intellectually much richer place. The trouble is that if they are forced to choose between giving up all involvement with their original area of professional interest, or staying out of public life, most will choose the latter.

That will leave us with parliaments made up completely of career politicians who hanker after nothing more in their professional lives than debating, campaigning and legislating. I have nothing against such people. Indeed I am full of admiration for those who dedicate themselves to parliamentary careers, given the grief, opprobrium and uncertainty such existences entail. All I am saying is that good parliaments need a mix of ‘types’ and insisting that no politicians can maintain an outside interest is very likely to militate against this.

That is not to say I have any time for those ‘consultancies’ which are really thinly disguised paid lobbying roles. Such activities are pernicious and need to be rooted out. But an MP still helping out with their family business, or doing a weekly shift as an A&E doctor is, to my mind, very healthy and certainly not a cause for concern.

So how does this impact on Guernsey? Well, I guess that it is only a matter of time before some start asking whether deputies should be allowed second jobs, or outside financial interests. There is a distinction between the two of course. The fact that this could even become an issue shows just how much local politics has changed over the last few decades.

When I first went into the States, almost 40 years ago, just about every member had another job, or owned a business, or was retired. I was very unusual in deciding to make politics my main occupation during those first nine years in local politics from 1982-1991. Most of my colleagues grew tomatoes, or ran hotels, or were advocates, with a few high-up finance types coming into the Assembly towards the end of that period.

These days there is a strong expectation that the opposite should be the case, with most deputies being full-time States members. I suppose there are several reasons for that. There are fewer States members now than there used to be, politics has become more complicated and demanding, and deputies’ pay has increased from next to nothing to somewhere around average earnings.

All good reasons for expecting most of your deputies to be pretty much full-time, but that misses the real question. What really matters is whether a States packed with full-time politicians is a stronger or weaker Assembly than one with many part-timers still very much involved with ‘real-life careers’.

Personally I am not sure that the pendulum hasn’t swung too far. I do agree that in the 21st century being a deputy shouldn’t be regarded as a ‘second job’, or even hobby, as it once was, but neither do I think it is healthy to insist our representatives give up all other professional interests.

In fact, at times doing something outside of politics can be a sign of exactly the sort of active and driven person who could give far more to public life than someone who is comfortable ‘doing the average’.

Which would you prefer – a deputy who spends 35 hours a week on politics and spends the rest of their time on the golf course or one who spends 50 hours a week on politics and still squeezes in some paid work in an area they feel passionate about?

In fact, I would claim that having very busy deputies can be an advantage. It is often claimed that the States’ main fault is being slightly slow to act.

And to quote an old [but somewhat sexist] adage – if you want a job done quickly, then give it to a busy man.

None of this should be taken as excusing those who take the deputy salary and then just play at politics. Nor is it in any way condoning those who may flirt with conflicts of interest. All I am saying is that if we insist on all of our deputies being full-time, with no paid outside interests, we are going to shrink the talent pool of those interested in contributing to public life considerably.

Then commentators will probably criticise the States for not having any real commercial knowledge or being out of touch with the real world. Even worse, it will make our Assembly more one-dimensional. To my mind that would be very sad.

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