Malcolm Rifkind has stepped down as chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee after an Underground Magazine investigation exposed a ‘votes-for-access’ scandal. Rifkind was recorded promising to work on behalf of the people who voted for him.
As part of the exclusive investigation, Underground Magazine reporters posed as ordinary members of the general public and arranged meetings with Rifkind at one of his notorious constituency surgeries. These surgeries — held regularly at the cost of the taxpayer — allow powerful local interests unrivalled access to politicians and the opportunity to influence what is discussed in the House of Commons.
When initial contact was made, our investigators told Rifkind that they were willing to exchange votes for him in return for their interests being represented in Parliament. Rifkind seemed eager to arrange a meeting and quickly and promptly responded via one of his parliamentary researchers.
In the secret recording made at the constituency surgery, Rifkind clearly says, “I’ve done this sort of thing before for thousands of constituents. If you want a question asked that mentions the local football team…let’s just say I can make it happen.”
“If you’re willing to promise to vote for me at the next election, you might be surprised to see a Private Member’s Bill about that hospital in the next few months,” he adds, winking.
Rifkind’s resignation has prompted a wider debate over votes-for-access claims, which have been condemned by businesses who feel that the influence of the general public on the political agenda is far too strong.
“These sinister individuals have met with MPs on innumerable occasions in the past year, often in party offices in the back rooms of village halls,” said Chris Leyland, a spokesperson for HSBC. “Last year one old lady lobbied her MP to fix a pothole she had fallen in outside her house and within 4 months it was gone! Coincidence? I think not!”
“Can you imagine if a powerful PR firm tried to do that? The MP would probably demand £5,000 to get the wheels rolling on a multi-billion PFI pothole regeneration scheme. But I guess these people just don’t have to play by the rules.”
Rifkind has denied any wrongdoing and claimed that his promise to raise issues in return for votes does not conflict in any way with earning large sums of money by working for external businesses. “Lots of MPs talk to voters,” he said. “It’s not at all unusual for politicians to fit a few meetings with constituents into their busy schedule working for corporations. Some even turn up to the occasional vote in the Commons.”
David Cameron was quick to reassure lobbyists that Rifkind’s collusion with voters had not posed any security risk to the Intelligence and Security Committee, as the British government has virtually no control over its security services anyway.