Not the novel by Graham Greene, but the potential end of the family affair, whereby MPs and MEPs employ family members and have the cost covered by their expenses. German MEP Ingeborg Graessle proposed a motion to stop what she describes as a “very serious conflict of interests,” which was passed by 477 to 149 MEPs in Brussels. This is because Giles Chichester MEP hired a firm of which he was a Director for “secretarial and assistant services for the European Parliament, constituency and committee work,” to which £445,000 since 1996 has been paid. The contract to that firm, and his role as the leading Conservative MEP in Brussels has now ended. A working group is now in place to asses the situation. This comes on the back of Derek Conway MP being suspended from the HOC for ten days, due to him paying his son out of his MPs expenses for the past three years.
David Cameron and Gordon Brown have certainly been fast to take action, in order to make sure this sort of ‘issue’ doesn’t arise again. But I have to ask; is this really such an ‘issue’? Certainly the press could easily describe this an problem, after all, there are six figure sums involved, the possibility to uncover alleged “corruption,” not to mention the faint whiff of elitism.
However, I might be just a little old-fashioned, and somewhat pragmatic, and therefore refuse to see it either as a scandal, or even something that should be viewed as a problem. Now if these family members, or companies hired by MPs and MEPs are incompetent, corrupt, or not doing what they are being contracted for, then they are breaking contracts, and not fulfilling the duties they have been hired to do. In which case, compensation is due, and money should flow back into the public purse. If however, they are doing there jobs well, and fulfilling the tasks asked of them, then why should this practice stop? In countries like Egypt this sort of thing is normal.
The UK is not Egypt. Our parliament is far more efficient and hard working. I say that with no malice or mocking directed towards Egypt and its Parliament, but I am simply stating the facts as I understand them (an paper by Professor Robert Springborg from SOAS, entitled Egyptian Political Identity in The Face of Globalisation is what I am referring too). Right now 100 MPs employ family members in the UK. David Cameron is asking all frontbenchers to declare any relationships when it comes to employment. All of this might culminate in a rule stopping MPs and MEPs from employing family members. In my eyes that would weaken their ability to work properly, and possibly increase rather than decrease the running costs of Parliament, since private firms (who are likely to charge more) would have to be employed to do the same work. MPs and MEPs are also likely to prefer family members because they are less likely to leak sensitive subjects to the media.
Just as Bendrix was sad the affair ended with Sarah (in the Green novel, The End of The Affair), I would find it a shame if a hard and fast rule was deployed to stop family members from working with their elected relatives. More transparency may be needed, but lets be sensible as to which practices of Parliament live on.