Lisa Nandy MP: Tory government sleaze has returned
This is a clear breach of the rules - so the Prime Minister tried to have the rules thrown out. He was only defeated when Labour and the opposition parties joined forces in Parliament and the public outcry forced the Prime Minister to back down. It marked a return to Tory sleaze reminiscent of the 1990s.
Owen Paterson, a former Cabinet Minister, earned hundreds of thousands of pounds a year from a company while seeking to influence Government ministers to benefit those that were paying him. This is a practice that has been rightly outlawed for a very long time. The independent anti-sleaze watchdog found him guilty and ruled he should be suspended from Parliament for 30 days.
Instead of backing the findings the Prime Minister tried to get Mr Paterson off the hook by ordering his MPs to vote to scrap the independent Standards Committee and replace it with a new committee run by one of his own Tory MPs.
Imagine if that happened in any workplace across the country – someone is shown to have acted improperly but instead of facing disciplinary action, the boss intervened and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get rid of the HR department instead.” It surely wouldn’t happen. If it did, we’d say it was corrupt.
The Tories argued the system was unfair because Mr Paterson hadn’t had a right of appeal.
In fact, he had had three chances to make his case. Compare that to someone who makes a mistake when claiming Universal Credit. They can be handed a huge fine, with no right of appeal – a system this Government introduced and Tory MPs have defended for a decade. We should call this what it is – utter hypocrisy.
Following enormous criticism, less than 24 hours after the vote in Parliament, the Government was forced into a humiliating U-turn. The plans for the new system were ditched and Mr Paterson finally resigned. But this is not a one off.
When the Prime Minister’s closest adviser Dominic Cummings mocked the British people by breaking lockdown rules the Prime Minister defended and protected him. When the Health Secretary breached his own Covid rules while having an affair with an aide the Prime Minister tried to avoid sacking him.
When the Prime Minister and Chancellor came into contact with the Health Secretary who had Covid they tried to bend the rules and get out of self-isolating, only backing down when the public responded furiously.
The truth is, we have a Prime Minister who thinks the rules are for everyone else, not him and his friends. People are rightly angry about it.
During the pandemic we’ve all had to abide by rules that are difficult and at times heart-breaking to follow. Families were split apart from one another, small businesses struggled to cope, children missed months of school and residents in care homes suffered perhaps most of all. Lots of us found it confusing, sometimes people made mistakes, but together we did our best to stick to the rules and keep the virus rates down, protecting the NHS until the vaccine was found.
It only worked because the rules apply to everybody.
That is why the Prime Minister’s behaviour is particularly offensive and indecent. There is a lot we can and must do to clean up politics, including cracking down on paid consultancies. But do not let the Prime Minister convince you this is a just a general problem with politics. MPs from Labour and every other political party came together this week to defeat Tory corruption, uphold proper standards and take on what is the most unprecedented corruption from a government I have seen in my lifetime.
You don’t just need to take my word for it – this week the former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, whose own Government was rocked by Tory sleaze scandals, said the Prime Minister’s behaviour was “shameful, wrong and unworthy of Government” and that Ministers had acted in ways that were, “perhaps politically corrupt”.
The rot starts from the top.
If we want to clean up politics and stand up for decency, we need a government worthy of the name.
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