Gratifying today to read that three formers MPs have been punished for taking advantage of the revolving door. Former Labour ministers Geoff Hoon, Stephen Byers and Richard Caborn have been rebuked for breaching lobbying rules.
The Commons Privileges Committee recommends Mr Hoon's pass be suspended for five years for a "particularly serious breach". It recommends suspending Mr Byers' pass for two years and Mr Caborn's for six months.
Sections of the interviews were later broadcast on the Channel 4 show Dispatches. The broadcast programme was a joy and a disappointment for me. I spent some time working with journalists preparing for the programme and I did the first interview. What I had to contribute faded into nothing compared with the sensational indiscretions by the former ministers.
Below is a blog I did in 2008 that was the first step in the investigation. It read:-
Cash for Comrades
It was MP versus MPs this morning. On the surface it was civil and polite but there was crackling resentment behind the exchanges.
‘Cash for Comrades’ at the Public Administration Select Committee. There are £73 billion worth of contracts up for grabs to clean up the mess left behind by our last disastrous use of nuclear power. That’s before we start on the new disaster.
There were reports that two of our parliamentary Labour colleagues had taken jobs with firms bidding for the fat contracts. Iain McCartney was said to have a job with Fluor for £115,000 a year, Richard Caborn with Amec at £75,000.
This morning Richard Caborn appeared before the committee. He was in combative mood. He began with a storming defence of his engineering credentials. He was once ‘the apprentice of the year’ and he had engineered up and down the country ever since as boy and man. What’s more the firm that pays him the dosh is in his constituency. He has to work for his constituents.
I asked him if he thought an MP’s job is a fulltime one? He said it was. This took the wind out of his sails a bit. As he has Amec on his patch, I have E.A.D.S. Lifeforce and big firms that I promote as vigorously as I can. I said if one of them offered me a bung of seventy grand I would regard it as a corrupt practice.
I did not tell the committee but one local firm offered me a service that I would like but cannot afford. Had I accepted it I would have had to declare it and my ability to promote the company would be undermined.
Richard’s testimony will be studied with care. Promoting a constituency firm and constituency jobs does not an additional income of more than an MP’s salary. The job of an MP is more than a fulltime. Most of us regret that there are not 48 hours in every day so that we can do justice to the demands of our constituents.
My Newport West constituents would go berserk if I told them that I was taking a second job with a second salary but still staying on as their MP. They would certainly kick me out at the next election. Quite right too."
Quentin Letts wrote a far more entertaining piece on the exchange in the Mail of May 08 2008.
"Paul Flynn and Gordon Prentice have become this Parliament's saltiest select committee interrogators.
Yesterday morning these two Labour MPs beat up a couple of recent Government ministers who have accepted big-loot lobbying jobs with unseemly haste.
Their names were Lord Warner ( ex- health minister) and Richard Caborn (ex-minister in various departments and a great amigo of John Prescott).
Lord Warner now 'advises' about eight health companies. Mr Caborn is up to his armpits in the nuclear power business as it chases some £73billion worth of state contracts.
Should these men be Hoovering up such work so soon after leaving office?
Can the public have faith in the propriety of our public life if ex-ministers walk straight into companies which receive vast amounts of Government work? A man's gotta earn, say trusting souls. Stinks like rotting trout, say cynics.
By the time Messrs Flynn and Prentice had finished yesterday the Warner-Caborn combo must have wished they'd gone into holy orders after leaving ministerial office.
It was pretty brutal. Every Parliament brings its own Select Committee stars.
The 1997 Parliament had the Culture Committee led by the sharp- taloned, sibilant-hissing Dame Gerald Kaufman (Lab, Gorton). Dame Gerry's regular evisceration of flaky witnesses, often senior BBC personnel, still sometimes disturbs my slumbers.
The stuff of blood- dripping nightmares. That was before you even looked at his dandyish choice of attire. In the 2001 Parliament it was two Tories who used a Select Committee to biff inscrutable authority.
Michael Fallon and David Ruffley (Sevenoaks and Bury St Edmunds, respectively) were the only stout hearts who managed to grab Gordon Brown's collar and ask the then almighty Chancellor what the blithering heck he was doing with the economy.
How prescient their attacks now look.
In this Parliament, Messrs Flynn (Newport W) and Prentice (Pendle) have been consistent value for money, pulling apart a succession of crooks, conmen and blue-sky thinking pseuds.
Yesterday's meeting of the Public Administration Select Committee was part of its inquiry into lobbying.
Since the 1980s lobbying has been a growth 'industry' - though 'trade' might be a better term.
The committee's chairman, Tony Wright (Lab, Cannock Chase), was keen to examine the 'revolving door issue' whereby ministers take juicy advisory jobs to soon after leaving office.
Lord Warner started rotating his palms and attempting some airy-fairy talk about how much 'knowledge and expertise' he offered his clients.
Rotating palms: Lord Warner claimed he offered clients his 'knowledge and expertise'
Mr Caborn (Lab, Sheffield C) was no less immodest, boasting about how he had once been 'apprentice of the year', how he had been an MEP, a shop steward, a chairman of various parliamentary outfits - in short, what a fine upstanding Herbert he was.
While it might be wrong to call his manner spivvy he certainly did not help his case by allowing a knowing smile to keep darting across his teeth.
Mr Flynn, coldly: 'I'm glad you are amused.' Mr Flynn voiced the fear that Mr Caborn, in taking £70,000 per annum from the nuclear industry in addition to his MP's salary, might 'prostitute our office'.
Given that Sheffield jobs were on the line, should he not be involving himself in the nuclear industry as part of his parliamentary duty, rather than for raw cash?
Mr Flynn used the word 'bung'. 'Why do you take a salary for this work?' he enquired, voice soft but deadly.
Losing his temper: Richard Caborn was unnerved by Flynn and Prentice's questioning
Mr Caborn, still with that larky smile: 'Cos they want to pay me.' Mr Flynn observed that there were all too many companies keen to pay MPs. He left it at that. Mr Prentice, cross-examining, found a wonderfully arch tone of disbelief.
When Lord Warner repeatedly did not give a figure for his annual earnings from lobbying - or rather 'advising' - Mr Prentice kept repeating words Lord Warner had used.
He also interjected with the occasional, languid 'yerrrrrs', laced with doubt. Both Lord Warner and Mr Caborn lost their tempers.
All in all, richly satisfying sport - all the more so when you recall what Mr Caborn's pal Prescott used to say about Tory MPs with outside financial interests."
I was tempted during May's General Election to reveal the health interests of my Tory opponent. Doubting the value of negative attacks, I remained silent.
My opponent's claim was that he the 'manager' of a parliamentary health group. He takes the minutes of Parliament's oddest health group. He also said his job was the 'adviser' to the Tory MP David Tredinnick.
David quietly repaid £755 claimed on expenses for software that used astrology to diagnose medical conditions. He was subject to a complaint last year that he had spent £755.33 of taxpayers' money on a computer programme providing "interpretations and analyses of a person's condition based on astrology".
Mr Tredinnick argued that the outlay on "Solarfire V" was justified as he had a long-standing interest in astrology and complementary medicine that had been expressed in parliament. "Solarfire V provides interpretation in both Western and Indian astrology and it is easy to switch between the two systems," he wrote in a letter to the commissioner. "As a result I now have a better understanding of the Indian system of Medicine, Ayurvedic, its definitions of personalities as being Vata or Airy, Kapha or Earthy or Pitta--Fiery types and how these personalities are reflected in Rashi and Navamsha Indian astrological readings.'
I wonder if this is what my Tory opponent advised David on? Not much call for this sort of thing in Newport West. Why taxpayers should be expected to fork out for this mumbo-jumbo is beyond my understanding.
Apart from carving up the LibDems three ways, there was another phenonminal result in tonight's vote that is almost unprecedented.
Every one of the 257 Labour MPs voted. No-one was ill, missed a train or had an un-missable engagement. This is remarkable achievement among 257 people who include a fair number of the lame, the halt and the blind. Very worrying for David Cameron, especially after he was knocked all round the Chamber by Ed Miliband yesterday.