Geoffrey Cox MP earned £1m in legal fees last year. Good on him.
“You can be an MP serving your constituents or a barrister working for a tax haven.” That, at any rate, is what Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner thinks.
After tasting blood in the Owen Paterson affair, Labour are after their next scalp. They have gone after Sir Geoffrey Cox QC MP, the basso-profondo Brexithorn who only just failed to save Theresa May’s deal with the EU, but since being sacked by Boris has been seen more frequently in the Caribbean than in the House of Commons.
Geoffrey Cox hauled in over a million pounds in fee income last year. He spent the lockdown sunning himself in the British Virgin Islands (he’s instructed to represent the Islands’ government in a corruption inquiry) and did his MPing stuff over Zoom.
Sir Geoffrey’s whopping income, like success in general, annoys Labour. It also annoys a substantial segment of the British public –not all of them Labour voters– who react to politicians with instinctive chippiness, believe that MPs have their snouts in a taxpayer-funded trough, and want their elected representatives to wear hair shirts, self-flagellate regularly (rather than paying expensive call girls to perform this service) and sit in a corner on the floor like Jeremy Corbyn when they get on public transport.
The view amongst the puritans is that being an MP must be a full-time job in itself. Anyone who finds time to do anything else is slacking at being an MP.
If you believe this, ask yourself what kind of Parliament you want. A prohibition on ‘second jobs’ would mean no MPs who employ people or run their own businesses. No MPs who serve as soldiers in the TA. No MPs who practice medicine. No MPs with the detailed understanding of the law that at least some members of Cox’s profession acquire. No MPs, presumably, who continue to write (as Boris did, rather well) for newspapers or edit political reviews.
But that doesn’t matter! You’d attract plenty of people who have never wanted anything in their scaly little lives except political power, and who’ve dedicated themselves from their earliest youth to getting a life-long, full-time job in politics. With no outside interests and no career to fall back on, you would get a Parliament of crawling, lickspittle party hacks, living their lives shit-scared of the whip and entirely dependent on loyalty to the party for their living. And you’d deserve them.
Geoffrey Cox doesn’t spend his brief appearances in the House of Commons cowering from the whips. When he was in the Cabinet as Attorney-General, he didn’t compromise his professional integrity by only giving Ministers the advice they wanted to hear: “I have been a barrister for 36 years and a senior politician for seven months,” he told the Daily Mail in 2019. “My professional reputation is far more important to me than my reputation as a politician.”
If you’d prefer to have an MP who has no reputation to lose, and who knows he’s finished if he falls out with the Prime Minister, more fool you.
The view has emerged that MPs are a sort of mildly elevated social worker; sent out from Westminster into the constituencies to do good works on behalf of people who run into difficulty with the local council. Of course, that’s part of the job. And by most accounts, Geoffrey Cox does all the constituency stuff he ought to, employs an effective team of caseworkers, goes in to bat for constituents himself when necessary, and seems to be a well-liked MP.
Angela Rayner should remember the late Labour leader, John Smith QC. All through the 1980s, Smith –then MP for Monklands East and a shadow minister– worked as a heavyweight criminal barrister. Like Cox, he earned the title of Queen’s Counsel through outstanding ability; it wasn’t the ‘artificial silk’ awarded as a courtesy to otherwise undistinguished barristers (in recent years, you can name quite a few) who are appointed as law officers by the Government.
If John Smith could serve his constituents (and be viciously effective in a series of shadow cabinet portfolios) while also bringing in big bucks by representing such luminaries of Barlinnie jail as Thomas ‘The Shadow’ Lafferty, then so can Cox. As Smith’s colleague and friend Tam Dalyell said: “If we ever got into trouble we would certainly hire John as our advocate.”
The puritans’ other gripe is that the £81,932 we pay MPs is more than enough for anyone. If the money isn’t enough, they should do a different job.
While it’s right that eighty grand is more than you’d get as a social worker, and would be excellent remuneration for any job whose sole defining qualification was mindless obedience, it’s substantially less than Parliamentarians in other mature democracies get paid. There are only 650 MPs in the country, compared to nearly 30,000 NHS GPs. GPs earn around £100k. A state secondary head teacher can earn up to £125k. Complaints about MPs being overpaid are spiteful nonsense. And you won’t secure the services of someone of Sir Geoffrey’s calibre for little more than the cost of a case of Château Pétrus.
The spiteful, chippy puritans can get stuffed. Geoffrey Cox does a perfectly good job as a constituency MP. His constituents in Torridge and West Devon (not a safe Tory seat when he took it off the LibDems in 2005) seem very happy with him, and have re-elected him four times. In 2019, he got more than 60% of the vote. So either 60% of the voters in Torridge and West Devon are mindless sheep, or Cox is doing something right.
Labour are just jealous because they haven’t got a lawyer among their ranks –Sir Kier included– who comes close.
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