Former foreign secretaries and current MPs Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind have been suspended from the Labour and Tory parties after being filmed apparently offering to use their political influence in return for money.
In a joint investigation, reporters from the Daily Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches posed as staff of a fake Chinese firm and attempted to ‘buy influence’ from a number of 12 top politicians who already had significant outside interests.
Half of those approached didn’t respond, one said he wanted to investigate the company in Hong Kong so they took it no further, and another said he was not interested. However, two high profile politicians, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, appeared keen to offer themselves for hire.
During meetings with the undercover reporters, Rifkind described himself as “self-employed”, despite being paid £67,000 by the taxpayer, and discussed offering his services for “somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000” for a half a day’s work. He also said that he could write to ministers on behalf of a company without mentioning the name of the organisation he represented and could provide ‘useful access’ to any foreign ambassador in London because of his position as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
In similar circumstances, Straw told the undercover journalists that he could bring his name to the business and discussed a fee of £5,000 for a day’s work. He went on to describe how his “under-the-radar” lobbying activities to change EU rules were extremely useful to a commodities firm that he already works for and declares an interest in. However, the MP for Blackburn did say that he could not take on a role for the fake Chinese firm while he was an MP, saying that he would be of more use if he were to become a Lord due to the different lobbying rules in the upper house.
Both men have referred themselves to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and both said there was no suggestion that they had been offering to use their influence as MPs.