Our political system is built on fragile trust. Conservatives’ protection of Owen Paterson will damage this

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It was Owen Paterson who suggested, when he was Cabinet Minister, that “the badgers moved the goalposts” to explain the failure to meet the government’s target for a kill. So it’s perhaps not surprising that his supporters decided that the best way to deal with his six-week suspension from the House of Commons was to move the goalposts so that the punishment no longer applies.

What is more shocking, however, is that the Prime Minister should support the attempt to change the rules and government whips should tell Tories to vote to rush reform that would block sanction against him. MPs duly voted this afternoon to overthrow an independent all-party committee which found Paterson had improperly lobbied for two companies which together were paying him over £ 100,000 a year.

Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, was full of righteous anger at the Prime Minister’s questions as she accused the Tories of “wallowing in sordid”. Beyond the rhetoric, it is extraordinary that the ruling party goes to such lengths to overthrow the disciplinary system put in place to protect public confidence in politics. Only two previous attempts have been made to change MP suspensions – one of which dates back to 1947 – and both have failed.

The Commons Standards Committee described Paterson’s conduct as “a blatant case of paid advocacy” and concluded that he had “brought the House into disrepute.” Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, is among those who fear this afternoon’s vote will further undermine the reputation of MPs — and he’s right.

It has been almost 30 years since the word “sleaze” first entered the political lexicon in the 1990s, when Conservative MPs accepted “money for questions”. You have to ask: Haven’t they learned anything since then about the extent of public disenchantment with politics and anger against politicians?

The 2009 MP spending scandal only deepened voters’ distaste for their elected officials. And since arriving in Downing Street, Boris Johnson has done nothing to rebuild faith in Westminster. Priti Patel remains in Cabinet, despite a ruling that she broke the ministerial code on bullying, and Dominic Cummings has not even considered stepping down as a Downing Street adviser after being caught breaking the lock rules for getting to Barnard Castle.

Of course, the vast majority of politicians are honest, hardworking men and women who try to do their best for their constituents, people like David Amess, whose death has caused a wave of sorrow and admiration throughout the country. Bedroom. Most MPs are not motivated by self-interest or greed, but a desire to make the world a better place. Yet politicians generally rank below bankers and journalists in surveys of the most trusted professions.

For trust to be rebuilt and maintained, the system must not only be rigorously enforced; it must be regarded as rigorously applied. Just this week, a report by anti-corruption watchdog Lord Evans of Weardale called on politicians with “poor ethical standards” to face tougher penalties.

Paterson and his allies claim he was denied “natural justice.” He attributes his wife Rose’s suicide in part to the investigation carried out against him by Kathyrn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards. But his tragic death does not detract from the facts of his behavior. Boris Johnson told MPs the question was whether Paterson had “a fair opportunity to make fair representations” and whether procedures in the House of Commons “allowed for a proper appeal.”

Yet even if the process is flawed (which is far from clear), it may not be fair or appropriate to change it in the midst of a particular case to avoid the consequences of an individual decision. Any reform must be considered in the abstract to allow an objective decision to be taken. It should also be above party politics, rather than overseen by a Conservative-dominated committee. Even Bernard Jenkin, the main Conservative MP and friend of Paterson, admitted that “it looks terrible.”

It’s easy to see this afternoon’s vote as a “ring road issue” that won’t find resonance among ordinary voters, more interested in fuel prices and food shortages. But trust is the foundation upon which the whole political process rests. People may not care about individual votes in the House of Commons, but they do care that politicians are following the rules. There’s a reason anti-political humor is such a powerful force in successful campaigns, from the Labor landslide in 1997 to the Brexit referendum and the Conservatives’ victory in the 2019 general election.

Boris Johnson has been riding this wave, but it could still overwhelm him. The Prime Minister thinks the rules do not apply to him. A teacher wrote of young Johnson in a report card: “I think he honestly thinks it is rude of us not to view him as an exception, someone who should be free from the network. obligations that bind everyone. This is, in a sense, Johnson’s greatest strength – he achieved his extraordinary political success by shattering all political norms, driving the big Tories out of the party, and then winning an 80-seat parliamentary majority for the Tories. crashing into the “red wall of Labor.” In his public and private life, he is a rule breaker who generally does well. That’s why voters see him as a lovable thug. However, it is usually a leader’s strongest asset that becomes their main weakness. Sooner or later the Prime Minister’s conviction that he is above the rules will be his downfall. It’s just a matter of when.


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