This has been yet another week where this Tory Government demonstrated their complete disregard for the rules. But even I was surprised at the depths to which they sank. I was expecting there to be MPs who would try to help Tory MP Owen Paterson to escape the sanction of 30 days’ suspension from Parliament for taking a large amount of cash from two companies for providing a large amount of access to Ministers and over a considerable time period.
But to see the Prime Minister and government Chief Whip lining up to force their own MPs to vote to change the rules to save him from the risk of a by-election was truly dreadful. Why does this matter so much? I believe this risks undermining our democracy.
On Wednesday, I spoke in the Commons opposite Jacob Rees-Mogg to debate the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in their recent report, which recommended the 30 day suspension.
Though he has now resigned before he could be suspended from the House, and though there seems to have been a governmental rethink following Wednesday’s vote, this is not the end of the matter. The Government were willing to abolish the Independent Committee on Standards- established for situations exactly like this- because it found one of their mates was guilty rather than have to implement the committee’s recommended sanction for proven misbehaviour.
This is the latest in a long line of examples of this Government creating a system where they make the rules just to break them. We’ve seen the Government flouting their own social distancing rules, their outright refusal to bring in retrospective rule change to close a sexual harassment loophole, and now their defence of what appears to be a return to the Tory sleaze of the 1990s.
These are the actions of ex-Ministers and veteran MPs, and an intentional tolerance of intentional wrong doing.
It matters because when we are elected to Parliament, we are there as representatives of a whole community of people; not just as ourselves. This is an honour that very few people hold in their lifetimes, and an honour that should not be soiled through sleaze and corruption.
It matters because no government should be exempt from the rules that the British public so diligently follow. This may be news to the Tories, but rules are not made to be broken, or to be remade when they don’t want to follow them.
It matters because we are bound by the Seven Principles of Public Life, brought into being, after the Tory sleaze scandals of the 1990s, to hold us to the highest possible standards. We should be setting an exemplary example to the people. Instead, this Government are turning Parliament into an embarrassment.
It is undoubtedly a privilege to be a Member of Parliament. And to paraphrase the popular saying, with great privilege comes great responsibility. We must be accountable, we must be honest, we must be transparent and we must follow our own rules.
We are at the heart of our democracy. It is imperative that we do everything we can to protect and uphold it.