MPs for sale: What will Byers influence?
Dispatches: Politicians for Hire
As the government fights off fresh allegations linking MPs, cash and business, Channel 4's Who Knows Who looks at the CV of Stephen Byers, one of the politicians in the spotlight.
"I'm a bit like a sort of cab for hire," Mr Byers explained to undercover journalists working for Channel 4's Dispatches.
The former cabinet minister told the team's fictional public affairs firm he had saved hundreds of millions of pounds for National Express through his contacts with transport secretary Lord Adonis. But Adonis has insisted government policy was not altered.
Mr Byers also claimed he had delayed and amended food labelling proposals for Tesco after phoning Lord Mandelson, the business secretary.
He added that he had been "doing work" with mining giant Rio Tinto, a company with its own share of controversy. Four of its employees have gone on trial accused of commercial spying in China.
Famously a Blairite, Mr Byers boasted that he could arrange for prospective clients to meet in person with Tony Blair.
In the Dispatches film Mr Byers offered his services for what he says is the going rate of "three to five thousand pounds per day".
He then offered tips about the optimum time for lobbying: "When the election is called, we all run off and start campaigning.
"The civil servants spend that month working through all of the policy options. It's a great time... and if there's an issue where your clients want to get a regulation changed or some law amended, that's the time to get in and see the civil servants."
He was joined in the Dispatches spotlight by fellow ex-ministers Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon. The pair were linked for different reasons in January with their failed coup to overthrow Gordon Brown.
Labour backbencher Margaret Moran, former press adviser Baroness Sally Morgan, who was known as "Blair's gatekeeper", and Tory Sir John Butterfill also indicated they were prepared to work for the fake US company. The latter gives himself a price tag in the region of £35,000 per year to sit on its board.
Following the allegations, the Parliamentary Labour Party has suspended the three former cabinet members involved -Byers, Hoon and Hewitt.
Mr Byers had already referred himself to standards commissioner, John Lyon, and insisted he has "never lobbied ministers on behalf of commercial interests".
Leader of the Commons, Harriet Harman was forced to deliver a statement on the issue.
She said: "I want to reassure MPs and the public that ministers act in the public interest. It is an absolutely fundamental part of the duties of their office."
But in a further twist, Harman is one of the so-called "girls' gang" outgoing Luton South MP Margaret Moran claimed she could persuade to act on behalf of companies. There is no evidence to suggest this is the case.
Shadow Commons leader Sir George Young said the allegations that former ministers were ready to lobby for corporate interests for private gain will have "deeply appalled" the public.
He echoed David Cameron's words: "Let's be clear about what's at stake here. These ministers, Hewitt and Byers, were claiming that they changed government policy."
A closer look at Stephen Byers's CV reveals a history of controversy.
He was described as an "outrider" for Tony Blair's New Labour project in the 1990s. Both men held constituencies in the north east, North Tyneside and Sedgefield respectively.
Their ties helped Byers get a top job in 1998, when he replaced Peter Mandelson as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
In 2001, following Labour's second election victory under Blair, Mr Byers was moved to transport. But he was forced to quit this job in 2002 following a series of damaging headlines.
Burying bad news
Byers came under intense political pressure after his adviser Jo Moore sent an email which said 9/11 was a "good day to bury bad news". Mr Byers was criticised for allowing her to keep her job.
The row flared up again when it was claimed another email was sent referring to the "burying of news" on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral. Ms Moore and another adviser, ex-BBC man Martin Sixsmith, later resigned.
Off the rails
The section on Stephen Byers's CV most frequently revisited is his decision to put Railtrack into administration and create Network Rail in 2002.
The move prompted nearly 50,000 shareholders to take the government to court in pursuit of £157m in compensation.
The claim was rejected and Mr Byers was cleared of all wrongdoing in Oct 2005.
Car manufacturer MG Rover was formed in 2000 when BMW sold the engine-making assets of the original Rover group to the Phoenix Consortium.
But it went into administration five years later in 2005, with the UK taxpayer picking up the tab. Stephen Byers, who was trade and industry secretary at the time of the Phoenix deal, faced criticism for his part in the collapse.
This is because he allowed the Phoenix businessmen to step in for a nominal £10. Jon Moulton, from rival bidders Alchemy Partners, has since written that Byers's actions "left MG on a short road to ruin".
Mr Byers maintained his actions had been "in line with government policy" at the time.
Mr Byers was one of the many MPs caught up in the expenses scandal. In May 2009, The Telegraph reported that he had claimed more than £125,000 in second home expenses for a London flat owned by his partner.
In Sir Thomas Legg's report on expenses repayments, it was revealed Mr Byers was paid cleaning costs totalling £9,125 over four years, exceeding the allowable maximum by a total of £1,125. He paid the full amount back.
Byers is rumoured to have business connections in Dubai. He had just returned from a trip to the Arab Emirate when he spoke to the Dispatches team.
In the programme Mr Byers claimed he had worked as a consultant for Consolidated Contractors Group, which has offices throughout the Middle East.
This potentially draws a line directly back to one of his and Blair's allies, former National Express chief executive Richard Bowker who now runs Union Rail in the United Arab Emirates. Bowker worked with Byers when he was at the Strategic Rail Authority.
Bowker also worked as Richard Branson's "right-hand man" in the late nineties at the Virgin Group.
With Byers due to step down as an MP in May, his portfolio of contacts and business links do not suggest he will be spending his time in the garden or on the bowling green.
Indeed an article Byers wrote in 2007 for the Guardian indicates that swapping politics for business has been a plan for some time.
He said: "There has to be a hunger to remain in office. It is often said that oppositions don't win elections, it is governments that lose them. This happens when they grow tired, pick unnecessary fights..."
Iain Martin, writing in the New York Times, believes the latest row engulfing Labour is simply further proof too much electoral power makes for bad business.
His analysis also points towards one of the possible benefits of a hung parliament.
Martin explains: "Ultimately, this story just demonstrates, yet again, how corporatism works. When government is too powerful, free markets are too weak and competition insufficient, companies will realise quickly that the main route to getting what they want lies in convincing government to give it to them.
"Thus doing business and making money hangs on who you know in power and what they can do for you."
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Who are we talking about?
Former Labour MP, North Tyneside
Former Transport and Trade and Industry Secretary under Tony Blair.Connections: 19 (See map)
Former Conservative MP, Bournemouth West
A member of Chairmen's Panel Committee, Butterfill is standing down as an MP at the general election.Connections: 6 (See map)
Former Labour MP for Ashfield
Hoon is former Defence Secretary, Transport Secretary, Leader of the House and Labour Chief Whip. In February 2010 he announced he would step down as an MP at the general election.Connections: 15 (See map)
Former Labour MP, Leicester West
Patricia Hewitt was Labour health secretary from May 2005 to June 2007. Before that, she served as trade and industry secretary from 2001 until 2005.Connections: 18 (See map)