Newspaper review: 'Grandees' careers in tatters'

With the day's big story, the "cash for access" sting that caught out Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, Tuesday's papers speculate on the pair's future and the future of the "lobbyist MP". Both men insist they have broken no rules.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jack Straw

The Daily Telegraph - which broke the initial story in collaboration with Channel 4's Dispatches programme - follows up with claims that Mr Straw told undercover reporters that when he leaves Parliament in May, he intends to join the board of a furniture firm he undertook unpaid lobbying for.

The paper says Mr Straw's stated intention to take up a post at Senator International - a firm based near his Blackburn constituency - "highlights a potential loophole in parliamentary rules which allows MPs to lobby for companies they will later join".

Mr Straw's spokesman tells the paper: "The help which he provided [to Senator International] was not in expectation of any employment or financial advantage but because Mr Straw was a constituency MP performing his parliamentary duties."

The Guardian says Sir Malcolm faces a tough day at the AGM for his constituency Conservative party.

The paper says the former foreign secretary presented "lawyerly" objections to his suspension from the party whip, and will have to withdraw as Tory candidate if he is found guilty of bringing the party into disrepute.

One unnamed senior Conservative tells the paper: "I don't see how Malcolm can survive."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Malcolm Rifkind

The Times says the Kensington MP's apparent eagerness to act on behalf of a (bogus) Chinese company, could imperil his tenure as chairman of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

As ISC chair, the paper adds, Sir Malcolm "knows some of Britain's most tightly held secrets".

The Independent focuses on calls from Labour and the Liberal Democrats for an outright ban on MPs taking outside consultancy work.

Ed Miliband has said he would impose such a ban, and limit the amount of "second income earnings" MPs can make to £15,000-a-year, if he wins power in May.

However, the paper notes that David Cameron has rejected such a ban, saying Parliament is "enriched" by MPs' "interesting experiences" working outside the chamber.

In a sketch in the Daily Telegraph, Michael Deacon spoofs the speech David Cameron gave on Monday in which he outlined his determination to help British pensioners.

Deacon says the nation would be sure to salute two "old-timers" who had been "reduced to eking out a living negotiating cash-for-access deals" .

"Readers were horrified to learn of the miserable penury that had driven the two respectable elderly gentlemen to take such drastic measures. One of the men - known as Jack, a former foreign secretary - was found to be subsisting on just £67,000 a year, plus £112,777 in additional earnings," he adds.


Remote

So what do the papers' pundits make of the whole affair?

Few have much sympathy for Sir Malcolm Rifkind's claims that he couldn't cope on his basic £67,000-a-year salary.

Richard Littlejohn, in the Daily Mail, says, "In that case, old son, you shouldn't have become an MP in the first place. Sixty-seven grand a year won't strike most people as a subsistence wage.

"It can't be right that any MP can double his money by acting as a glorified errand boy for a private company."

Image copyright PA

Rachel Sylvester in the Times says: "Ed Miliband is right to propose a ban on MPs taking outside directorships and consultancies.

"Although it is true that politicians benefit from having experience of the outside world, there is a difference between MPs bringing their knowledge of life on the professional front line as, say, doctors, lawyers or teachers into the House of Commons, and MPs taking the knowledge and contacts gained in Westminster to benefit private companies - and themselves - in the outside world."

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian says the whole story has been "another hammer blow to the reputation of politicians".

"This adds fuel to the anti-politics fires burning up trust in the old parties, to the glee of UKIP, the Greens, the SNP and Westminster outsiders," she adds.

Steve Richards in the Independent says the "cure" for the "lobbying problem" is one that most voters do not want to hear.

"MPs should earn more. If they take outside jobs there must be total transparency. Transparency is high already. If an MP receives so much as a table tennis ball as a gift he or she must declare it. But it has become politically impossible to pay higher salaries.

"As a result, an appetite for higher earnings, not uncommon in other professions, takes seemingly desperate forms," he argues.

If second jobs were banned, and former ministers banned from taking up posts after they leave politics, "fewer talented people will enter politics or, crucially, stay in politics," he adds.

It's a view supported by Philip Johnston in the Daily Telegraph.

"If [professional people] are banned from keeping their jobs while sitting as MPs, then few will stand for election - and Westminster will become even more remote from the people than it is now," he concludes.


'Nibble away'

Another story found in much of Tuesday's press also concerns wage levels and standards of living.

The Financial Times lead on the UK's "widening generation gap" makes a cinematic pun in declaring Britain, "No country for young men".

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The older generation could have more reasons to smile, according to the Financial Times

The paper bases its story on analysis it has carried out on official statistics to find that, "average twenty-somethings have seen their living standards slip from a position of comparative affluence to well below par over the past 35 years as average pensioners have enjoyed a rapid rise up the national league table of incomes".

The paper explains that the average 65 to 70-year-old used to be in the lowest quarter of living standards in Britain, but is now in the top 40%.

"A major reason for the shift is the rise of house prices in the recent decades.

"Many older people bought cheap and locked in sizeable gains... with little indication that recent generations of young adults are catching up, there are signs that this group will remain disadvantaged," the paper adds.

Such stories have led newspapers to question the prime minister's pledge to continue universal benefits for the elderly, if his party is returned to power in May.

The Daily Telegraph's leader column argues: "Can the country afford to continue funding benefits for pensioners who are often better off than the workers who have to pay for them?

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Rising house prices has held standards of living back for younger people

"Following a pledge made at the last election, subsidised bus passes, TV licences, free prescriptions and the winter fuel allowance have been paid out without means testing.

"Surely, the right approach would be to defend pensioner benefits if resources permitted... an absolute undertaking might lead to money being diverted from other areas of equal, or even greater, importance."

In the Daily Express, political commentator Ross Clark sets out the opposite line, arguing that it is "mean-minded" to "nibble away at the pensions and benefits of those who have reached retirement.

"Many of those retiring now paid some very high tax rates through much of their working lives... they were much less likely to go to university than younger people.

"Many started work at 15 and have put an entire half century in the workplace, more than today's students will do even if they retire at 70."


'Outrageous frock'

It's Oscars time - and the papers are full of big hair, big speeches, big egos - and very scanty dresses.

The Independent's man at the ceremony, Geoffrey MacNab, says the show "was the usual mix of the thoroughly predictable and the mildly surprising".

"Do the Academy members vote for the best films or are they swayed by the most effective campaigns? It is obviously a mixture of both.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Julianne Moore won the best actress award for her part in Still Alice

"Civil rights drama Selma was this year's most conspicuous underachiever in terms of award recognition.

"In spite of claims of a bias against the film, there is a nagging suspicion its campaign fell short - and that the reason it didn't make more of an impact was that not enough voters saw it in time."

Loving a British best actor winner, most newspapers focus on Eddie Redmayne's gong for The Theory of Everything.

"Redmaynia" declares the Sun, noting that the Eton-educated star will now be able to double his wage demands per film on the back of his Oscar success.

The Daily Mail says "awesome Eddie's won everything" before declaring that the star - who did a little jig on stage on receiving his statuette - got his award for "a film hardly anyone's watched".

In the battle of the Oscar night pictures, the delighted Mr Redmayne narrowly edges ahead of singer Rita Ora's covering-less-than-its-showing dress, and pictures of Scarlett Johansson's apparent discomfort at getting a kiss on the cheek and a hand on the midriff from John Travolta.

Ms Ora's gauze dress (one of three she rotated during the course of the night) was declared a hit by the Daily Star who said the "outrageous frock" showed she had "some front, and plenty of behind" to stand-out among Hollywood's finest.

However the Sun is uncharacteristically coy about it, asking the Kosovan-born chanteuse, "oh do put it away for once!" Thoroughly predictable and mildly surprising, indeed!

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