I have been contacted by many constituents about the most recent Tory scandal and I absolutely share their fury with the Government. What the Conservatives have tried to do over the last few days is nothing short of corruption.
Let’s just be clear about what happened – One of Boris Johnson’s MPs, Owen Paterson was paid to lobby and influence government ministers on behalf of wealthy clients and he refused to declare it. Therefore he was rightly found guilty of an egregious breach of the rules by an independent committee. He should have simply apologised and taken his punishment, which wasn’t even sufficient in the first instance.
Rather than respecting the independent commissioner, the Tories then conspired to change the rules. Boris Johnson and the Tories took the shocking decision to scrap the Standards Committee and replace it with one run by one of their MPs.
What’s more, when a Tory MP was found guilty in a sexual assault case recently, they said you can’t change the rules retrospectively to exclude him. It’s never been more clear that the Government believes the rules don’t apply to them unless it suits them.
Imagine if this 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 wouldn’t happen. And if it did we’d say it was utterly corrupt.
This is a privilege afforded to no-one else in the country. The shocking double standards don’t just damage the Tory Party they damage the public’s faith in our democracy. Boris Johnson and his MPs are trying to take all of us for fools. They are a government caught in plain sight trying to rig the system to suit their mates.
While the Prime Minister has been shamed into changing his mind, he led his MPs through the sewer. Over and over again, this Government shows total contempt for the rules. Let’s not forget, they defended Dominic Cummings when he mocked the British people by breaking lockdown rules and handed billions of pounds of taxpayer money to their donors and friends during Covid-19.
Although Owen Paterson has now taken the decision to stand down as an MP, there are real questions still regarding the Government’s behaviour and disregard for the rules of Parliament. We are dealing with a Government which is purely self-interested. This is far from an isolated incident, as the last few years have highlighted a pattern of sleaze and corruption at every level of Government.
The truth is, we have a Prime Minister who thinks the rules are for everyone else, not him and his chums. With his every action he signals to his MPs: do what you like. There are no consequences.
As for what Labour would do, firstly, we made clear we would boycott this sham new system the Tories attempted to set up.
Instead, we are focusing on cleaning up politics. We’ve got a lot of plans in this area. For example, under the next Labour government, anyone who holds ministerial office would be banned for five years working for companies who want to write legislation in a connected area. The current situation is absurd and shouldn’t be allowed. You can choose to be a lawmaker or a lobbyist – you can’t be both. We would also introduce a truly independent anti-corruption and anti-croynism commission, to ensure we never again see a situation where Tory MPs gorge their donors on billions of pounds of taxpayer money. And we would improve transparency around public spending and government contracts through a new Office of Value for Money, set up to ensure the government treats taxpayer money with the respect it deserves.
I can promise you that Labour will continue to hold the Government to account on this – as well as setting out a lot more about how we would clean up politics on behalf of ordinary people.
I made the decision this week to continue my important work at COP26 in Glasgow, which meant I could not get back in time for the vote. However I was formally paired with a Tory MP who would have voted to exonerate Owen Paterson, thus my leave made no difference to the result.
Ultimately MPs are elected to serve their constituents alone. I will only ever serve and represent your interests in Parliament. That’s the way it should be.