We appear to have entered a new era of sleaze. How many scalps will it claim?
First we had Owen Paterson, who lobbied government departments on behalf of companies paying him tens of thousands of pounds each. After initially backing him to the hilt, the government decided to cut him loose and he announced his resignation shortly thereafter.
Now the floodgates are open, and every day brings a new front page about second jobs of conspicuous consultancy. The next person in the crosshairs is Geoffrey Cox MP (and QC). As reported by The Mail, he has been earning £1m a year on average running a substantial legal practice alongside being an MP (or should that be the other way around?). On at least one occasion he conducted private legal work from his parliamentary office, which would be a breach of the rules if proven.
Will he be the next MP forced out? I doubt it.
Certainly the optics are bad. For starters, Cox has just been earning so much money. Call it the politics of envy or a legitimate concern about how much time he’s spending as a barrister, but being the highest earning MP year after year looks to some like his priorities in life are more personal than public spirited.
Additionally, his clients don’t always inspire public sympathy. The British Virgin Islands aren’t known for much beyond being a tax haven, and his work did indeed relate to the tax and transparency regime on the islands. While a lawyer representing a client doesn’t prove any sympathy to their cause, the court of public opinion certainly isn’t above guilt by association.
However, I’d be extremely surprised if he resigned. For starters: He doesn’t want to. Facing allegations in the press, he issued a forceful rebuttal on his website making clear (in the third person, for some reason) that he feels he has done nothing wrong.
More importantly, the government seem happy to stand by him. Unlike Paterson there is no need to commit major resources and whip MPs to do so: Cox’s breach of the rules appears limited to working from his office one time, and it is unlikely the Parliamentary Standards Committee will throw the book at him for that.
Given that, it seems deeply unlikely he will be forced out without his consent. The worst I can see coming is that he agrees to stand down at the next election. Things could change, but it feels like none of the allegations are nearly forceful enough to dislodge a determined MP, and the more sympathetic press is already (and not entirely unreasonably) making the point that his actions are far less serious than Paterson’s.
Smarkets are offering odds on whether there will be a by-election in Geoffrey Cox’s seat before May 2022. The odds imply a roughly 25% chance of a by-election, but even those numbers are too high. A few months isn’t so long to wait, and the price on ‘No’ is still value.
Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on there not being a by-election in Geoffrey Cox’s seat before May 2022 at evens. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts