Over the last week we’ve seen Westminster enmeshed in another sleaze scandal.

An MP found to be in breach of the rules by a cross-party committee which recommended sanctions for what he had done.

In response, the Prime Minister led MPs, some of whom defied him, though the voting lobbies to vote against that sanction and at the same time tried to change the system so that his party could control it. At the same time he sent others out to suggest that the independent parliamentary commissioner of standards should resign.

The National Wales: Boris Johnson. Photo: PABoris Johnson. Photo: PA

Let’s think about that.

It’s the equivalent of trying to stop a court from sentencing somebody while at the same time abolishing the court and demanding the judge be sacked.

Welcome to Britain in 2021.

I’ve always believed that most MPs set out to do an honest job, regardless of party. They go to Westminster to represent their constituents and to support policies that they agree with. They need an independent system of standards to ensure that the public can have faith that MPs will act according to rules and will be punished when they don’t. That is essential to give the UK Parliament credibility after the financial scandals that have rocked it over the last fifteen years.


What this UK government tried to do was to take us back to the days of low standards and in doing so, dragged most of its MPs in Parliament through the mire.

The eloquent defence by Chris Bryant of the system and its fairness went a long way to forcing the UK government to execute another U-turn. He made the case in a dispassionate and non-tribal way. He did not seek to turn it into a party-political issue and I believe his approach was key to making so many think again about their vote.

A committee of MPs from different parties made a recommendation. It was rejected on the strength of a whipped vote without MPs being able to have any opinion of their own.

In announcing the government U-turn, Jacob Rees-Mogg declared that people had unfortunately conflated the issue of Owen Paterson with the issue of reform of the parliamentary standards regime. That defies rational belief. The two issues were joined at the hip by Boris Johnson. There was no attempt to distinguish between the two. It was a blatant attempt to junk the whole system using one example as a reason to do that.

Let’s be frank, at the heart of this mess was an attempt by some Conservative Members of Parliament to do a favour for a friend and trash the system that had found him in breach of rules that MPs had already agreed on. If Owen Paterson had been a Labour MP, I don’t believe for a minute that they would have done the same nor do I think that Boris Johnson would have whipped his troops to vote in his support. This was party politics through and through.

The National Wales: Owen Paterson. Photo: PAOwen Paterson. Photo: PA

Those friends have done Owen Paterson no favours at all. He has undoubtedly suffered a personal tragedy which would have affected him deeply and nobody would fail to have sympathy for what he has been through. He would have been better served by his friends and by Boris Johnson if he had been advised to accept the sanction and move on. Instead, his name has become a byword for sleaze.

Having supported him initially the Prime Minister, in typical fashion, dropped him like a stone when the scandal became a threat to himself, not even bothering to inform Owen Paterson of his change of mind until it was in the public domain. It must be said, however that Owen Paterson did not help himself when he declared after the vote last week that he would have done the same thing over again. Humility would have been a better option after so many of his colleagues went out on a limb for him.

The whole affair has a Trumpian air to it. Contest the findings. Use voting muscle to overturn them. Put your own people in place to oversee the system in the future. Try to sack the person who made the initial findings. At all costs, discredit the whole process.

Thankfully, the public disapproval that was generated, together with the annoyance of Tory MPs who realised the unethical position they had been put in, led to a complete capitulation.

The National Wales: Boris Johnson, maskless, during his visit to Hexham General Hospital. Photo: Peter Summers, PABoris Johnson, maskless, during his visit to Hexham General Hospital. Photo: Peter Summers, PA

How did Boris Johnson react? Like a man who thinks he can get away with anything. He refused to come back to Westminster to answer for his actions. Instead, he went to visit a hospital, where he seemed not to wear a mask at all times. When asked questions about what had happened, he tried to avoid them.

He has enjoyed electoral success but all that will eventually come to an end. He’s a Classics scholar and would do well to remember that in ancient Rome, when a general paraded through the city in triumph after a great victory a man would stand next to him who kept on saying “Remember thou art only a man” to bring him down to earth.

The Prime Minister could do with such a person right now.

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