Time to put your foot in the revolving door, Dave.
The front page of today's Mirror – All aboard Cam's £1m gravy train – reports that 25 ministers from the coalition government are now making a small fortune working as directors, advisers or board chairmen, in 'businesses they used to govern'.
This comes on the back of yesterday’s Sunday Times story – MPs demand controls on jobs for ex-ministers – which exposes even more of this revolving door action. According to the paper, since 2010 former ministers and senior civil servants have had more than 800 applications for post-government work approved by the ‘watchdog’ tasked with monitoring the revolving door. Some of these jobs present potential conflicts of interest, the paper notes.
No reasonable person would begrudge these former politicians and officials a living. But, why so many in the pay of companies that they either used to regulate, or their lobbyists?
Just look, for instance, at the ministers who have recently moved from the department of energy and climate change to the energy sector (you could play this game in many other sectors: health, education and of course, defence). According to the Mirror, four of David Cameron’s former energy ministers now work for energy firms, or their lobbyists.
Take ex-energy secretary, Ed Davey. Last week it was revealed that he has bagged a job with commercial lobbying firm, MHP Communications. According to MHP, Davey will be paid to provide its clients with advice, counsel and ‘thought leadership’, aka PR, 'as appropriate'. This includes its energy clients.
According to David Singleton, editor of lobbying trade mag Public Affairs News, top of MHP’s client list is EDF, the French energy giant, 'an account that is worth close to a whopping £50k per month to MHP.’ As Singleton notes, Davey was intimately involved with EDF during his three years as energy secretary.
MHP chief executive Gavin Devine is candid about the value of Davey’s ‘unique insight into the energy sector’. ‘His knowledge of the top-level workings of Britain’s political system will prove immensely useful’ to clients, says Devine. That is, to companies that pay MHP to influence government.
Bear in mind, MHP already employs some top rank political insiders: former home secretary, Charles Clarke; ex-permanent secretary, Brian Bender; and more recently Davey's former Lib Dem colleague, ex-health minister, Paul Burstow, who works for MHP's healthcare clients.
It needs to be said that Davey and others have done nothing wrong in taking these jobs. But, what lobbying firms – and their clients that pay the bills – are buying when they hire former ministers and civil servants is insider knowledge and access to government.
What they are doing is rigging the system.
In opposition David Cameron promised to tackle this 'cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest': 'If we win the election,' he said in February 2010, 'we will take a lead on this issue by making sure that ex-ministers are not allowed to use their contacts and knowledge – gained while being paid by the public to serve the public – for their own private gain.'
And yet under his leadership, the trade in contacts and influence has boomed.
Despite the rhetoric, there are no real restrictions on the revolving door in the UK. The 'watchdog', the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), doesn’t prevent the revolving door from spinning, it merely takes a note of people passing through. It's a case of 'a word and on your way'. It is not the Committee's business what these people get up to after that. ACOBA's like a rubbish doorman.
Or as Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the public administration and constitutional affairs select committee, put it to the Sunday Times: ‘It is effectively a voluntary arrangement which has no sanctions or teeth’.
Predicting that this ‘highly unsatisfactory system’, will not last, ‘because I don’t see how it can possibly generate public confidence,’ Jenkins is calling for a ‘statutory system with clear rules which were enforceable with sanctions, [so] everybody would know where they stand.’
It's the right idea, but it's going to take a brave minister to get that one past colleagues with one eye on their next move.