Former Tory foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind is to step down from not only the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, but also as MP for Kensington amid ‘cash for access’ scandal.
While Sir Rifkind denies any blame for his actions after being secretly recorded by Channel 4 journalists posing as a fictitious private Hong-Kong based firm, during the meeting, Rifkind offered his expertise and political position to benefit the company, in exchange for a fee of “£5,000 to £8,000”. This ‘expertise’ could have involved influential Middle-Eastern presentations and an “enormous range of contact lists”, according to Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Westminster standards watchdog.
Despite earning a salary of £67,000 a year for being an MP, Rifkind claimed “nobody pays me a salary, I have to earn my income”, when justifying his fee to an undercover journalist. This was rebuked by Rifkind’s later comments, claiming that he believed he was offering his expertise and powers as former foreign secretary, rather than as an MP in the House of Commons. His resignation from both the ISC, of which he was the chairman of, and as MP for Kensington after the election on the 7th of May suggests his ignorance as to the matter may be feigned, however. Whether this will affect the seat of Kensington is debatable- winning by a safe Conservative margin of at least 10% in every General Election since 1979 denotes a strength in votership for Kensington come the May election.
In a world ruled by money, a certain degree of moderation must be given so as to avoid similar ‘cash for access’ cases. Rifkind said in another secretly recorded meeting that he could submit questions to ministers for companies without revealing their identities- a claim which severely breaches three of the seven principles set out by the Nolan committee, most prominently the “Selflessness” principle, which Rifkind has unashamedly disobeyed in asking for thousands of pounds in payment for representation.
The ability to have questions submitted anonymously by MPs is an opportunity for private companies to benefit themselves, via changes in policy and law. In some cases, this can be global- such as Jack Straw’s alleged usage of his political influence to change European Union rules and to convince the Ukrainian prime minister to change laws, on behalf of a commodity firm which paid him £60,000 a year for his services.
It is evident that large sums of money can be used to divert MP’s attention away from the constituencies that they represent and onto private companies that can afford it, however, the uprising of journalists willing to uncover Parliament’s bad lot might be able to reduce it- significantly. Hopefully, those that shame Parliament, and by extent the UK, can be weaseled out for hope of a fairer, more democratic political system.
Those who are entangled in ‘cash for access’ scandals are currently seeking to distance themselves from responsibility and blame. Sir Malcolm: “I don’t think I did anything wrong. I may have made errors of judgement. That’s a different matter.” Commons speaker John Bercow stated that the MPs in question would be punished if found that they had broken the rules, which Rifkind and Straw both fervently deny allegations of.
Rifkind should be seen as an example to all would be sell out MPs: betraying your constituencies, those that place their trust, confidence and spirit in you is worth a few thousand pounds and your integrity. The reward for proving your loyalty to voters, however, is a fairer society.