Fair comment in the public interest
In the meantime, I would recommend that everyone take a look at this blog post from Will Jordan, which I believe is both fair comment, and self-evidently in the public interest.
It seems to me that the core issue here is, as Craig Murray also points out, the extent to which it is appropriate, in a modern democracy, for MPs to hold down second (and third, and fourth and fifth) jobs without creating serious conflicts of interest which threaten to compromise their independence as MPs.
Tony Baldry has been at pains to stress the extent to which his work as a barrister is distinct from his activities as an MP. And yet the website of his own legal chambers, One Essex Court (accessed and archived 6/3/10), seems to blur this distinction, stating that:
Recent Heads of Chambers include Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, a leading Conservative MP for over twenty years, and Parliamentary connections are maintained under One Essex Court’s current head Tony Baldry MP.
The question of whether or not individual MPs are currently “acting within the rules” is, to my mind, secondary to this much larger question of whether the rules, in their current form, are really doing an effective job of maintaining the robust independence we need from our Parliamentarians in order to sustain a healthy democracy.
As was often the case during the expenses scandal, we might happily accept at face value all of the public statements that Tony Baldry MP has made, yet still have grave concerns that the Parliamentary rules could permit the arrangement he describes.
And as with the expenses scandal, it is vital that members of the public are able to voice these concerns openly, without facing threats or intimidation.
As Chairman of the Conservative Human Rights Commission, Tony Baldry must surely be aware of the growing international concern around the use of UK libel law by super-rich claimants to deter critical reporting of serious public interest questions.
The debate around MPs’ second jobs – in which the controversy surrounding Tony Baldry is just one example – is clearly a public interest matter. Democracy depends on our freedom to scrutinise the conduct of our MPs, and question the rules they make for themselves.