Passholder privilege: the MPs turned consultants

10 November 2021

5:00 AM

10 November 2021

5:00 AM

Westminster is full of stories at present of politicians cashing in. But while much of the attention thus far has focused on the excesses of current MPs like Andrew Mitchell and Geoffrey Cox, will it soon be the turn of former MPs to be in the firing line? Already, questions have been asked as to whether Owen Paterson will request the parliamentary pass to which he is entitled – something denied by friends of the (now former) MP for North Shropshire. The passes give access to the Palace of Westminster, without having to register any kind of outside interests. Perfect then for a political consultant.

And now research by Mr S has found that no less than 58 of the 283 ex-MPs listed as holding a parliamentary pass currently work in consultancy, lobbying or advisory work — the equivalent of more than one in five. Some, obviously, have better known gigs than others — Nick Clegg is Facebook’s main spokesman, while George Osborne advises his brother’s venture capital firm 9Yards, among his burgeoning portfolio. Both still hold their parliamentary passes, giving them continued entry to parliament’s restaurants and bars without any kind of register of their interests.

A number of their former colleagues now boast eponymous consultancy firms. Among them include Janet Anderson of Pearson-Anderson Communications, Robert Flello of Robert Flello Consultancy and Greg Mulholland of Greg Mulholland Comms Ltd. Lorna Fitzsimons has Lorna Fitzsimons’ Consulting; self-styled consultant David Lidington boasts David Lidington Associates. From the Coalition era, former ministers now include Sir Norman Lamb with NPL consulting, Norman Baker of Norman Baker Enterprises and Claire Perry has Claireon Limited — an environmental consultancy, set up six days after she was sacked as COP26 president.

Energy does appear to be a popular draw, on both sides of the fossil fuel fence. Tory knights Michael Fallon and Alan Duncan are working at oil firms Genel and Britol respectively, while Melanie Onn is Renewable UK’s principal external spokesperson and Jeremy Browne is Renewitty’s senior advisor. Some have taken interests close to their hearts; Michael Dugher is chief exec of the Betting and Gaming Council while former health minister Sir Simon Burns is the ‘government liaison officer’ for consumer healthcare business Clinova.

Others in public affairs jobs include Tom Blenkinsop at the Federation of Small Businesses, Thomas Docherty at Which?, Greg McClymont at IFM Investors and Alasdair McDonnell who is a partner at Upton Public Affairs. Stuart Donaldson is the NFU’s campaigns manager with Parmjit Dhanda an executive director of Back Heathrow. So too still proudly sporting their ex Members’ pass are Sir Simon Hughes, strategic adviser at train manufacturer Talgo, Ann Milton at Property House Marketing and Iain Wright at ICAEW.

Those making full use of this privilege include Stewart Jackson – a lobbyist at first Crosby Textor Fullbrook and now Political Insight. Last year he was revealed to have used his grace and favour pass 82 times in the year from July 2018 to June 2019 – almost one in every two days on which parliament sat in that period. Mary Creagh – one the Labour MPs who lost their seats the Johnson landslide in 2019 – now chairs Lexington Communications’ ESG practices with her erstwhile colleague Simon Danczuk now styling himself on LinkedIn as a ‘freelance consultant’. He also serves’ as London chairmanship of Downtown in Business.

Tory grandees meanwhile have no qualms about getting in on the action it seems. Sir Julian Brazier, a shock casualty in 2017, now puts his defence insights to work as the chairman of Pathway Risk Management and non-executive director of SamsonVT. Sir Malcolm Rifkind meanwhile advises litigation funds management firm 17 Arm – last year found to be funding a large-scale legal action in the English courts by a convicted Russian fraudster once banned from Britain. Sir Hugo Swire is now chairman of Brennan and Partners while fellow Tory Oliver Colvile has returned to his lobbying roots at Polity Communications.

As for those brave souls who tried to break the mould of British politics with Change UK, there’s a happy ending for them after all. Chris Leslie is now chief exec of the Credit Services Association, with fellow ex TIGger Gavin Shuker now the boss of fintech start-up Cardeo. Margot James, who quit the Commons in 2019, is a director at Taso Advisory; her fellow Tory Remainer turned Lib Dem defector Philip Lee has Tablet Consulting. Some, like Phil Woolas, remain disdainful of the ‘lobbyist’ title, preferring instead to opt for ‘consultancy’ to refer to his Wellington Street partners; others like Adrian Sanders embrace it whole-heartedly.

Others meanwhile prefer to focus their efforts on international causes. Former Labour MP John Grogan now runs the Mongolian-British Chamber of Commerce, with Tory Neil Carmichael juggling his education consultancy with the chairmanship of the association of dental groups and the grandly titled ‘UK-China Culture and Education Cooperation Promotion Centre.’ John Austin and Andrew Love both serve on the board of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding with Richard Caborn now both a consultant to Legacy Park and a director of the ‘China UK Business Incubator.’

Not for nothing did Duncan Hames of Transparency International UK, tell Steerpike that

Former MPs really do not need to have special parliamentary access more than a few months after they cease to hold office. As guests of current members they can be escorted anywhere they might have need to go, just like anyone else. A pass is however more useful to a lobbyist, easing their way in, and being able to snatch an opportunistic conversation without an appointment. Using a pass in this way is not allowed, but without a meaningful lobbying register, there is no scrutiny and that rule goes unenforced.

And all this is not including Jonathan Aitken, the former Cabinet minister jailed for perjury, who took up use of his pass last year. Mr S suspects though that once the current furore passes, ex MPs will be given a pass on this – again.


Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments