Over the past few months, I have slowly realized that my family is not just the victim of a personal tragedy. We are also victims of a broken political system with no regard for its human cost.
Last year my mother committed suicide. Last week my father, MP Owen Paterson, was convicted by the Parliamentary Standards Committee of “paid representation”. You would think his wife’s suicide was enough punishment, especially since our mother had become deeply concerned with the way the investigation was being conducted.
Obviously no. On Wednesday, the Commons will vote on the committee’s report and its recommended sanction, a 30-day suspension, which could trigger a by-election. In addition to his wife of 40 years, he risks losing his career and his hard-earned reputation.
It’s an easy story, isn’t it? A well suited for lazy spreading through the Twittersphere. Sleazy Tory funded by big business got what he deserved. Except it couldn’t be more wrong.
Having lived with my father during confinement, my brothers and I experienced this nightmare while mourning our beloved mother. I know I am not an objective observer. But anyone with a little common sense could see that this process has been woefully mismanaged and that my father is the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice. A group of lawyers have advised us throughout and at no time did any of them find any wrongdoing on my father’s part.
At the very least, one would expect a complex investigation like this to be conducted by a lawyer. In addition, the person suspected of breaking the rules should be questioned and witnesses heard before a decision is made. This process should last a few weeks, not two years, especially if the person involved experiences traumatic grief during this time. During the process, they should have the right to defend themselves publicly. My father did not receive any of these basic legal rights. The fact that the final report is full of factual errors, while accusing it of playing the role of victim, is a further injustice.
Worse, he is being punished for trying to save lives. In all cases, he sought to redress a “serious harm” as permitted by the Rules, either by alerting the authorities to dangerous carcinogens in milk and ham, or to the fatal consequences of the failure to calibrate the medical equipment provided by the Minister. Dfid to developing countries. Experts confirm that milk and ham are now safer for consumers because of my father’s actions. Do we really want to prevent members of Parliament from trying to right wrongs?
The fundamental question is: what does this say about our political system? For me, it’s broken and inhumane. Partisanship and self-interest now take precedence over principle and reason. Parliamentary privilege is no longer a guarantee protecting MPs from tyrannical monarchs, but a mechanism to abuse it outside the legal system. Members of Parliament are no longer treated as human beings with families but as symbols of ideologies unworthy of compassion. None of this is new; politics is politics.
But it comes at a terrible human cost. No sane person will enter politics knowing that they will be abused, that their reputation and family could be destroyed for no reason, and that their life could be in danger. I certainly won’t. If Parliament votes to suspend my father, it will be validation of this broken system and the pattern of abuse will continue. I do not wish this ordeal on any other family, but I fear we are not alone.