Owen Paterson was given a rough ride by a packed audience as the four North Shropshire candidates took part in a hustings event at The Marches School.
The Conservative, who has been MP for the past 20 years, had a hard time over health cuts, the number of police on the streets and especially during a debate about extra income.
Mr Paterson acts as consultant to Randox Laboratories Ltd, a clinical diagnostics company near Belfast, and receives £8,333 a month – almost £100,000 a year – for a monthly commitment of 16 hours.
He is also a consultant to Lynn’s Country Foods Ltd, a processor and distributor of sausages in Northern Ireland, and receives £12,000 a year for four hours’ work every other month.
He defended the payments by saying it would be a shame if every MP was a ‘career politician’.
“MPs come into parliament with their own skills – sometimes in business, in academia, the military, or whatever – and they use those skills,” he said.
A member of the audience shouted: “You’ve been bought”, to which Mr Paterson responded: “That’s so wrong.”
Mr Paterson, who said MPs were on call for 24 hours a day, also insisted the payments were open and in the public domain, included in an MPs’ register of financial interests.
Liberal Democrat candidate Tom Thornill, a student teacher, said: “When I qualify as a teacher I’ll have a salary of £21,500. An MP gets a salary of about £80,000. I can’t imagine ever earning £80,000 – it’s a figure people in the public sector can only dream of.”
Green Party candidate Duncan Kerr said: “If MPs were busy 24 hours a day, I can’t see they’d have time for any outside work.
“When MPs take retainers, people become cynical and wonder who they will represent – their constituents or the business paying them a retainer. I think the price is too high and if that means people don’t want to become MPs, so be it.”
Graeme Currie, the Labour candidate, said: “I think it is outrageous. If you’re an MP, you’re an MP. What these firms are buying is influence.
“If there is a political earthquake and from Friday onwards my diary becomes somewhat disturbed and I become your MP, I would commit 10 per cent of my salary towards finding solutions for homelessness and rough sleeping.”
Mr Paterson was also heckled over the nation’s security because of the number of police officers on the streets have been cut. He responded by saying the number of ‘specialist’ officers and intelligence had been increased.
Mr Thornhill said he was horrified at the thought ‘Jeremy Corbyn and Dianne Abbott could soon be in control’ and Mr Currie added: “The Conservatives said they should be judged on their record – well, judge them.” Mr Kerr said: “There are evil people out there. I think as a country we should look at who we are selling arms to.”
Finally, the candidates were asked why they should receive our vote:
Mr Currie: “For a different type of society than we have now, funded in a different way, supporting getting people into jobs and the development of our economy.”
Mr Kerr: “For a caring Britain, putting people before profits. We can have an economy for the common good.”
Mr Paterson: “To finish what we have started. Under Labour the country was borrowing £300,000 a minute – we have plenty of work still to do.”
Mr Thornhill: “Our children deserve the best education they can get. But let’s be honest – Owen Paterson knows he will get back in because we have a broken electoral system. We need a fair system.”