Ex-legislators often pursue new private sector opportunities to top up an already handsome pension, but what exactly do they bring to the table in post-Commons life, asks Eliot Wilson
The remuneration of Members of Parliament is always a subject likely to provoke strong feelings. In their afterlife, as in their time in the legislature, they are comfortably provided for. They receive either one 40th or one 50th of their final salary for each year served, and there are additional provisions for MPs who are forced to stand down due to ill health. In any event, though, an average Member of Parliament can expect to be receiving in the region of £45,000 per annum as his or her parliamentary pension.
Many MPs, however, are ambitious people who will leave the Commons at an age at which they feel they still have some working life and value in them, and will seek to add to that pension with other paid roles, from full-time employment to advisory appointments across the public and private sectors. In the wake of each general election, then, business leaders and entrepreneurs can expect discreet or overt approaches from parliamentary refugees hoping to sell their skills and experience.
What can former MPs bring to the table? What value will they add to a C-suite role or a board position?
Contacts — this is probably the most obvious and yet most nebulous offering that former MPs have. After a decent length of service in the Commons, they will ‘know’ a lot of important and influential people, from political leaders and regulators to public-sector chiefs and major figures in business.
By that word ‘know’ hangs a lot: a former select committee chair may be on intimate terms with energy company bosses, for example, or it may simply be the ability to say ‘As you will recall, I represented Dunney-on-the-Wold in Parliament for many years…’ That still carries cachet. So the services of a former MP can open doors for you and your company.
Advice — under this umbrella comes a number of services. A former minister who piloted a Bill through the Commons may be well placed to advise you on the genesis and technical aspects of the legislation, and may also know where the resultant Act’s loopholes and inadequacies are. He or she will also have engaged with relevant stakeholders during the process, and, even if a lot of the detail has been forgotten, politicians have a knack for recalling the broad brushstrokes of a policy.
Experience — here is the most obvious way former ministers can bring value, as they have enjoyed executive power. Someone who can put ‘minister for health services’ on his or her CV, for example, will be a useful addition to anyone working in the sector, from private hospitals to big pharma.
Some will hit the jackpot: former deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg is now vice president at Facebook after losing his parliamentary seat, while the ex-chancellor George Osborne assembled an infamous array of positions from editor of the Evening Standard to one day a week advising fund managers BlackRock.
Some cautionary words; CV inflation is as rampant among former legislators as it is in any profession, so try to read between the lines. Someone who has been a minister or a select committee chair for a decent stint probably has something to sell: a ‘senior backbencher’ or someone who was a bag-carrier for six months may be sifted to the bottom of the pile.
If possible, talk to someone who knows the Westminster scene, to put words and phrases to the acid test, and canvassing opinion among the candidate’s colleagues is always worthwhile. If the prospect has been advanced to the House of Lords, he or she will maintain some of their former ‘access’, but there are strict rules about lobbying and use of parliamentary facilities.
In the end it is a matter of due diligence. Check as many of an aspirant’s claims as you can, and find someone with the expertise to decode some of the verbiage. Be cautious, because politicians always have enemies, but be realistic too: no-one comes without baggage.
A former MP can bring a lot of skills to the table in the business world. If you hire them with your eyes open, they can benefit you in a dozen ways, half of which you may not have expected, and they will be worth their money. Be realistic, be rigorous, but be open. They really can, as they promise in public life, work for you.
Eliot Wilson is the co-founder of Pivot Point