Friday, 23 October 2009


I don't want to get into the increasingly fashionable habit of ranting about MPs. It's an easy thing to do – especially in light of the current political climate of expenses scandals – but I thought I'd chime in on something I've read in today's copy of the Isle of Thanet Gazette. It turns out that North Thanet Tory MP, Roger Gale, has been employing his wife, Suzy, to work for him, so I wanted to write about the recent news that the Committee on Standards in Public Life is planning to outlaw MPs from employing relatives.

Needless to say, Gale's wife has threatened legal action if she is banned from working for her husband, but this raises some interesting questions on the ethicality of hiring relatives to work for you, in any capacity, let alone in the public sector or in local government. According to the Isle of Thanet Gazette, about 200 MPs currently employ their relatives (of which South Thanet Labour MP, Stephen Ladyman, is one, since he's hired his wife too), so this news is definitely gonna ruffle some more feathers in the near future, perhaps more so than the expenses scandal.

I've always grown up with the phrase “it ain't what you know, it's who you know” and this rings a bell on this subject. Most jobs fall into your lap merely by knowing somebody in the right place, at the right time. In the private sector, I think it's safe to say employers thrive on this doctrine, and hire whoever the hell they bloody well want, whether they be relatives or not; in fact, I've known some instances where people who've owned local businesses have pushed their relatives to the front of the job queue whenever there's a vacancy without a second thought. There is, after all, a reason why James Murdoch, the son of media baron Rupert Murdoch, is poised to inherit his father's enormous business empire upon his demise.

Let's be honest, if you're in a position of power, it's very easy to use that power to your advantage (i.e. to employ those in your immediate circle at the behest of other outside candidates). This is why MPs have got away with doing it. On the other hand, the advantages of hiring your relatives is a question of trust – you could argue that you can trust your relatives more than you could most employees, so it is justifiable on that count. But the “ain't what you know, it's who you know” mentality arguably belongs to the private sector. In the business world, it's the law of the jungle. Sink or swim. If you snooze, you lose. If you're in a position to be given a job merely because your boss is related to you by blood, then that's just tough luck to everybody else. Hard cheese.

However, in local government, or more specifically in the realm of politics, the rules are considerably more hazy. I suppose what I'm trying to say is, the decision to outlaw MPs from hiring their relatives is slightly understandable, because politics is supposed to be an inclusionary process, and the “ain't what you know, it's who you know” mentality doesn't quite sit right with the participatory nature of democracy. Those working for MPs should arguably be members of the community who wish to help their elected representative to achieve their aims and objectives, not those who are either related to them, or those who conveniently hang onto the coat-tails of their reputation.

But if MPs are outlawed from hiring their relatives, why not expect the same from the private sector? Can you imagine laws being set in place to restrict business owners from favouring their relatives when recruiting new workers? I doubt it. Come on, it's no secret, it happens every day. Somewhere today, there is someone working in a branch of Tescos who has got the job merely because their uncle happens to be the branch manager. It's just the way it goes. But somehow I cannot imagine that business owners are likely to be outlawed from doing so. Why? Because they'll argue it's an affront to free enterprise.

Therefore, I understand MPs who are likely to be outraged from being restricted from hiring their relatives. All this proves is there a clear line being drawn in the sand, separating the “ain't what you know, it's who you know” law of the jungle mentality of the private sector, and the supposedly more democratic, fair, inclusive and accountable nature of the public sector. Whether it's agreeable is another matter together. Some would argue it matters not whether those who work for you are related to you; all that matters is the quality of work that is being done; but I suppose it depends on your perspective.

In my view, politics should reach beyond the private sector for inspiration, and quite rightly, since it is in theory a profession built upon accountability and public interest, but that's no real cause for outlawing the hiring of their relatives. After all, we wouldn't expect businesses to sing from the same hymn sheet, or would we? Nevertheless, all we can hope is that Roger Gale MP isn't hiring his dog, Lollie, to work for him, judging by the flattering picture of him snogging his pooch at a Westminster dog of the year competition. Is that a good enough cause to outlaw MPs from locking lips with canines in public? Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject.


  1. Luke, banks, for all their faults, follow a code of declaring any relationship with a current employee if going for a job. Brothers, sisters, children, spouses, cousins, in-laws are usually turned down to avoid favouritism for promotion, pay, or even cross departmental collusion for fraudulent activity taking place.

    Perhaps something MP's could learn from bankers?

  2. Well, if banks follow such a code, then I see no reason why MPs shouldn't do the same. As I stated above, the “ain't what you know, it's who you know” mentality doesn't quite sit right with the participatory nature of democracy, so it is in the public interest to disallow the hiring of relatives by MPs.

    I guess I can just see this becoming a big issue - MPs are likely complain that if businesses have the freedom to do which MPs are not (hiring relatives), then there'll be an outcry. But if it's true that banks follow a code such as this, then I see no reason why MPs shouldn't follow suit. Interesting issue though.

  3. Relative or not, it's hard to imagine anyone working as efficiently & tirelessly as Suzy does.

  4. Peter beet me tot he punch but I was about to say that I am not sure anyone could afford to hire a non relative that gave a fraction of the work and time as Mrs Gale does.

    Being in politics is a whole family affair. The wife, children, grandparents and everyone else are sent out to social groups to do their bit. Even the dog is paraded in front of the public as part of the profile building that goes on. There is a reason why Mr Gale shows us his entire family dog and all - they are all a part of the elect Roger promotion team.

    By the time an MP gets elected the entire family have been working on that election for up to three years and are already well trained in what is what. In a fair selection process they are the best candidate already.

    Don't forget that we move the entire family of the PM into number 10. The entire family is under the media spotlight. The entire family sinks or swims based on the actions of the PM.

    We don't question it. We don't question because any man or woman not able to get his own family 100% behind his political aims is unlikely to engender much from the general population.