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'After-Dinner' Speakers: What a Racket!

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) is chaired by Tory Peer Baroness Browning and its remit is to act as a watchdog, signing off on paid employment some politicians take up after the curtain has supposedly been drawn on their parliamentary careers, or vetting candidates moving from jobs in the city to become special advisers to ministers in Whitehall, to ensure there is no conflict of interest.

The effectiveness of ACOBA is being increasingly called into question, not least by me. For example, there are calls for those who inappropriately exploit their contacts in Government when taking up new roles in the business world, to be pursued by the courts. To illustrate how commonplace the revolving door between Westminster and big business is, in April more than 25 former government ministers were employed in executive business positions.

Recently, the committee agreed a request from former Chancellor George Osbourne MP – who was unceremoniously dumped from the Cabinet by Prime Minister Theresa May only weeks ago – to join the roster of the Washington Speakers Bureau. For those not acquainted with the Bureau’s work, it hires prominent speakers from across the world to deliver lectures, presentations and after-dinner speeches. Not one application referred to ACOBA has ever been refused!

This ‘old pals’ act shows that ACOBA must use its teeth, before losing what little credibility it retains.

Mr Osborne will be delighted that bureau speakers are reputed to command anything from £40,000 to £230,000 for a single speech. However, perhaps rather than rushing to jump on the lecture circuit gravy train, the former Chancellor should remember he has constituents to serve. Indeed, many will find it objectionable at best, that serving MPs are hawking themselves around, forgetting that Parliament is not about being a Cabinet Minister; it is about representing constituents in the Commons and constituency. Bizarrely, on 28 August the Sunday Times said Mr Osborne did not have a job. Yet despite losing his frontbench status, he remains a sitting MP whose first priority should be serving those he is in Parliament to represent.

Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are both members of the same bureau, which Mr Brown joined years before standing down as an MP. Mr Blair is said to be paid up to £200,000 a speech; Mr Brown a lot less.

In this Parliament former Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg MP has been almost invisible, whilst in April he was paid £30,000 by a pharmaceutical company for making a speech in Geneva. Similarly, some months earlier he was paid £22,000 by Goldman Sachs, ironically, the same investment bank he derided in 2010 for supposed recklessness and greed, for a short speech and for then moderating a question and answer session.

Perhaps rather than scouring around for employment prospects, and opportunities to line their own pockets, the likes of Mr Osborne and Mr Clegg would do better to remember that they already have jobs as MPs. It is high time they took their responsibilities more seriously.

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