Last week, the Tories have stooped to new lows, and it was another busy week.
After shamelessly defending Owen Paterson’s obvious flouting of the rules on paid advocacy, the Government attempted to U turn on this astounding disregard for upholding the standards of public life.
Except they didn’t quite manage it. The Tories put forward their proposal to backtrack on their attempt to help Mr Paterson avoid the recommended consequences for his actions on Monday 15th November, but they couldn’t even manage to do this properly as one of their own MPs scuppered them (see here), and forced a full debate.
We debated this on Tuesday 16th November. As Shadow Leader of the House, I urged the Government to back the recommendations from the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life report into MPs’ outside interests, which was first published in 2018. The Committee on Standards in Public Life was set up in the late 1990’s after the sleaze scandals in the Major Government.
On Wednesday 17th November, Labour held a debate on Strengthening Standards in Public Life. This followed another u-turn from the Prime Minister, who published a letter that appeared to be supporting our proposals. A remarkable change of heart, considering just two weeks ago, he had been at the centre of a plan to undermine the entire standards system in Parliament.
During the debate, I asked the Government to support our proposals and guarantee a fair Parliamentary vote on strengthening standards. However, true to form, it was nothing but platitudes from the Government, as the Tories predictably voted against us, putting forward their own wrecking amendment to avoid Labour’s proposed level of scrutiny. The Tory-backed change would potentially only affect the jobs of 10 Tory MPs.
The Tories continue to undermine the integrity of Parliament. The trust our constituents put in us to represent them properly is one of the very highest privileges of public life. But the Government seem to have forgotten this, instead putting their own self- interest first, and their constituents second. This must not be passed off as ‘harmless Tory antics’, or as a Westminster story with no relevance to the wider British public. We cannot be compromised as politicians, or we are not providing the objective service that is so rightly expected of us.
Parliament has been strengthening standards since 1695, making them ever-stronger. Until a fortnight ago. We are the heart of democracy. There are no excuses for the Tories bending and breaking the rules when they are inconvenient to them. These rules exist for a reason; to hold us to the very highest standard possible.
I, for one, do not want a Government ripping up the rulebook for their personal gain. I suspect the British people share this view.