Opinion: Good for Esther McVey – free hospitality is the least our MPs deserve

Opinion: Good for Esther McVey – free hospitality is the least our MPs deserve
The idea that MPs must lead puritanical lives, never indulging in anything or – heaven forbid – having fun, is vindictive, childish and self-defeating

How to react to the news that Tory MPs Esther McVey and Philip Davies accepted VIP tickets to a series of flagship sporting events this year? Might I politely suggest a great big shrug of the shoulders. Honestly, so what?

The idea that MPs must lead puritanical lives, never indulging in anything or – heaven forbid – having fun, is vindictive, childish and self-defeating. MPs are paid handsomely enough but nearly all of them could earn significantly more in an alternative career. If we continue to hammer them for enjoying some of the perks of the job, those considering a move into politics will quite sensibly conclude that it really isn’t worth the hassle (and hey, you can enjoy corporate entertainment in plenty of other professions anyway). It’s a great shame.

McVey and Davies, a married couple, enjoyed £18,000 worth of tickets this summer, according to the Daily Mirror, attending Royal Ascot, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a third round match at Wimbledon and a couple of England’s Euro 2020 games. It’s certainly an enviable summer of sport but, added together, it amounts to what – a few days of entertainment? It’s hardly a dereliction of duty and I doubt their constituents would disagree. In fact, most people would probably say, good for them. Tough job, enjoy a day out.

So what’s really going on here? You’ll find a clue in the hand-wringing statement from the Liberal Democrats in Tatton, McVey’s constituency. “What would most of her Tatton voters and supporters not have given for a £3,457 ticket for the England/Denmark Euro quarter final match at Wembley,” the statement reads, “or a £1,100 ticket and ‘hospitality’ package for Wimbledon on July 2?”

This is little more than an opportunistic attempt to set up a divisive “us and them” narrative, which simply isn’t there (it’s worth noting, since the Liberal Democrats didn’t, that Labour MPs declared £31,921 of free tickets over the same time period). Of course the life of an MP is different from the lives of their constituents. But it works both ways. There are doubtless many aspects of an MP’s life – long hours; lack of privacy – that constituents don’t envy. It is wrong to criticise the perks without recognising the sacrifices.

One other point. What does matter is who MPs are accepting these “freebies” from. And here it seems to me that McVey and Davies may have shown a lack of judgement. On at least two occasions, it is understood that gambling company Entain, where Davies has worked as a paid advisor, covered the cost of the tickets. There is, then, potentially a conflict of interest, though Davies did in fact step down as a member of the Commons Culture Committee, which covers UK gambling, while he was advising Entain.

All the tickets were declared to parliament, however, and there is no suggestion of improper behaviour by either McVey or Davies, as much as the Liberal Democrats wish it were so. Their statement reeks of pettiness. “For a politician who prides herself on being in touch with the working man and woman, and on the side of hard-working, honest citizens, it must have come as a major embarrassment for Esther McVey MP that she has been found out accepting freebies to two major sporting events in June, from a betting company, who are at the forefront of the gambling industry’s attempts to resist changes in the gambling laws.”

To be clear, I am all in favour of keeping a close eye on which firms are cosying up to which MPs and asking why. That’s fine. But let’s drop this silly charade that we’re outraged because a couple of politicians had a pleasant day off.

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