The Financial Times has done an analysis of the activities of the Frontbench Spokesmen of the Conservative party and their outside interests. The proposition is that the sheer scale of their outside interests has a number of implications.


Firstly there is the issue of time management. Is the amount of time that they are devoting to their non-Parliamentary duties so much that they have inadequate time available to carry out the task of doing all the hard grind that is vital for the execution of effective opposition?


Secondly is the fact that they have taken up so much extra-parliamentary responsibility an indication that they lack morale, in that their concentration on other careers suggests that they have no confidence whatsoever in being on the cusp of high office?


Thirdly, and following on from the last question, does the fact that they are doing so much outside Parliament send the right or the wrong signal to party activists and workers on the ground: in other words does this have a knock on effect as far as general morale is concerned?


This is a very pertinent set of questions coming at the end of a three month period in which the Tories have seen their erstwhile lead in the polls evaporate and be turned into a decent lead for Labour, a period in which David Cameron’s judgement and leadership have come under fire and an apparent failure to press home the attack on Labour has produced a certain amount of disquiet in the ranks of the Conservative party.


I start from this position: I am all in favour of polticians of whatever stripe holding outside jobs, indeed I would positively encourage it, for, as Shadow Cabinet members have told the FT, there are significant benefits to them being exposed to the world of business where they get real time experience of the problems facing industry and commerce in terms of taxation, excessive regulation, the business climate and the simple process of being involved in the making of day-to-day decisions. In addition it ensures that they come into contact with ordinary members of the public rather than having to exist, on the rubber chicken circuit, with anodyne meetings with party activists over a glass of insufficiently chilled Rosé.


I would go further and say that when looking at candidates for any list of approved Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, one factor which ought to be uppermost in the minds of the selectors is the question: has this person got experience of working in the real world with real people in real-life situations?


Contrast this with so many of the Labour élite some of whom have had disturbingly little contact in their working lives with real people outside the political bubble: that unctuous little squirt David Milliband comes to mind. He pontificates an awful lot about almost anything, yet his life experience is entirely limited to the world of targets, policy wonkism, five year planism and the like that is the world of the professional political theoretician. He has never had a proper job in his life involving real people yet some speak of him as a future Prime Minister. The lack of experience of almost anyone in the modern Labour Party in the affairs and ethos of the countryside is perhaps the most glaring example of this deficiency.


All that said, one could be forgiven for worrying about the sheer scale of the outside posts that the Shadow Cabinet has which does give rise to the unease of which I have written and to the sense that there is not the same intensity and passion present that so marked the highly focused assault by Labour’s top team in the period 1994 to 1997.


It is, at the end of the day, a matter of fine balance. Is the level of salary of an ordinary MP sufficient that they need only to take on more modest amounts of outside work to achieve the aims and aspirations I have set out above? Should the Party be raising and spending much more money to fund and support the offices of Shadow Ministers with more researchers and advisers, thus lightening their load? Should they be made to forego some of the extensive posts they have and would they then be lost to the party and parliament as a result?


I do not pretend to have the answer to these questions, but pertinent they are and need to be kept under review, especially when part of the party’s disquiet has been at the sometimes troubling absence of players on the pitch when Labour’s goalmouth is left unattended.

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