One rule for you, none for us…

Tories being sleazy, it’s an old story. In a dusty drawer somewhere, you will find the expression “Sleazy does it”, as used often and long ago in my newspaper column.

That phrase is back again today, not from me but on the front page of the Daily Star, so perhaps I will step away leave it in that drawer.

The behaviour of the government yesterday certainly betrays sleazy attitudes, entitlement, one rule for you, none for us. All attitudes that are rolled into the oafish, bullying and entitled shape of the man in the ill-fitting suit – a clumsy concoction, by the way, designed to distract us from his true nature.

In case you need a refresher course on this one, the Conservative MP Owen Paterson was found guilty of repeatedly breaching lobbying rules by parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone, who recommended he be suspended for 30 days.

A relatively mild punishment, you might think, for a man who was reportedly paid £120,000 by two companies to lobby parliament on their behalf. But Boris Johnson kicked over that independent system for combating sleaze in parliament and ordered his MPs to back a vote protecting Paterson.

You may recall that Johnson himself is facing what would be inquiry number four for breaking those rules, this time into the funding of the absurdly expensive refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.

As we now know, Johnson cannot tolerate any criticism or the upstart notion that anyone other than himself might have the final say on anything.

What happened yesterday was that a Tory MP found to have been abusing lobbying rules complained about the system and the verdict. And the government said it would abolish that system and set up another more to its liking.

There was much huffing, not least from Mr Paterson himself, about “natural justice”. This appears to be the sort of justice you call on when you’ve been caught out but wish not to be caught out. Natural justice would surely require Mr Paterson to have submitted to his mild punishment while reflecting on why he needed another £120,000 to add to his MP’s salary of £82,000.

Without wishing to make this party political, here is what the 25-year-old Labour MP Nadia Whittome said in the Observer magazine the week before last…

“I give away all that I earn above the average salary. I’m in Parliament to represent workers – why should I earn so much more than them? Instead, I put that money to good use, donating to strike funds and causes locally.”

There you have one MP feeling guilty about what she earns and donating the excess to wider social good; and there you have a Tory MP trousering what he can get, then having a tantrum when told he has broken the rules.

You may have heard assorted Tories, such as Dame Andrea Leadsom, whose idea this shabby wheeze was, explaining that this has nothing to do with partly politics or indeed Owen Paterson. And if you believe that, you may wish to have your credulousness levels checked.

This is the sort of government you get when you elect a man like Boris Johnson. A shameless, self-serving man who wouldn’t know a scruple if he sat on it.

But don’t just take my weary word for it. Here is Kevin Hollinrake, the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, speaking to the Times:

“It just looks wrong for the powerful to be able to change the system when they get a judgment they don’t like.”

I don’t always stand next to Kevin but will happily do so today. Equally, I don’t offer rub shoulders with the Daily Mail, will happily do so today as it leads with the headline “Shameless MPs sink back into sleaze.”

And should you wonder what Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a man whose hesitancy can frustrate, thinks about all this, he has written a stinging article for the Guardian with the headline: “Let’s call out the Tories’ behaviour for what it is: corruption.”

Yes, let’s do that. Whether enough voters will pay attention is another matter, but it’s time something stuck on this conniving government.

Leave a Reply