Two weeks into this self-inflicted Tory sleaze scandal, Boris Johnson has set out plans to bar MPs from political consultancy roles and to make sure their outside interests are within ‘reasonable’ limits. Downing Street released this news just as Keir Starmer was giving a speech on Labour plans to bar most second jobs ahead of an opposition day debate on the matter tomorrow.
The bar on political consultancy raises questions of how that would be defined, as I say in the magazine this week. Where is the line, for instance, between providing advice on the international economic situation and political consultancy? I suspect that for this ban to be meaningful it will have to be extended. There are similar definitional questions about what a reasonable amount of time to spend on outside interests is: would it be reasonable for a lawyer to spend as much time on cases as a minister spends on departmental business?
Number 10 will be hoping that this will draw a line under the sleaze stories that have dominated the past fortnight; in the Commons this afternoon, Theresa May tore a strip off the government for its attempt to stay the verdict against Owen Paterson. But those Tory MPs with outside interests will be fuming tonight that Downing Street’s mishandling of the Paterson issue has led to such a focus on this question.