MPs’ second jobs was a scandal hidden in plain sight - but it still took months to fully investigate

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When the NationalWorld team first started to investigate MPs’ second jobs back in July, we had no idea the scandal would end up engulfing the government

The scandal around MPs’ second jobs is one that’s been hidden in plain sight - until now.

It’s no secret that many of our elected representatives enrich themselves with outside work, and that several see their £81,932 annual MP’s pay packet as insufficient on its own.

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(Here’s your occasional reminder that the median salary in the UK is just under £26,000.)

Only last month, Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley described this annual salary as “really grim” and “desperately difficult” for many of his colleagues to live on, in comments that had many reaching for their tiny violins.

Over a year ago, NationalWorld’s Ethan Shone reported on the MPs who make the most from their second jobs, which inspired this brilliant sketch from comedy duo Larry and Paul, depicting MPs in the style of a heartstring-pulling charity TV ad.

None of this is new or revelatory - the system as it stands allows it to happen.

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But while our politicians are obliged to record their ‘side hustle’ earning (whether that’s from second jobs, property or shareholdings) over a certain value in the Register of Members’ Interests, the publicly available data is, to put it mildly, sub-standard.

That led to Ethan, along with former NationalWorld reporter Sarah Wilson, taking on the challenge of building our own database on MPs’ second jobs, one that they could interrogate to show the true scale of MPs’ outside interests. They kicked off the work in early July this year.

Our data and investigations editor Harriet Clugston then teamed up with them to ensure the numbers - often incomplete in the register - were as accurate as possible.

We were working to a late November launch date for ‘Part Time Parliament’ - however, planning around the news agenda rarely goes as expected, so when the government tried desperately to get Owen Paterson off the hook over his suspension for breaching the rules on paid lobbying, before coming to another screeching U-turn, we knew we had to bring our release forward.

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The bad news for MPs is that we’re only halfway through releasing our findings.

So while in some ways this was a scandal in plain sight, just waiting to blow up, it required a huge amount of journalistic effort to bring the worst excesses to the public light.

Last week Downing Street was clearly praying this would remain a “Westminster bubble” issue.

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This week they’re under no illusions: once again MPs are facing a reckoning over how they conduct themselves in public office, and they could well be punished by voters at the next election.

🎙 You can listen to a special episode of our Uncovered podcast here (or wherever you get your podcasts) in which Ethan talks to Kelly Crichton about the Part Time Parliament project.

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