by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 4
November 2021
Debate
13:34

Boris was wrong to U-turn on Owen Paterson

The so-called sleaze affair is nothing compared to previous scandals
by Peter Franklin
Th trolley in full swing.

A quick recap of the last 24 hours. Yesterday, the Government blocked the suspension of one of its own MPs after he was found to have broken the rules on lobbying. Ministers then pushed through a vote to unpick the whole parliamentary standards system. The move has been met with uproar on the opposition benches — and with visible horror on the Tory backbenches.

And so, today, the humiliating u-turn. With masterful understatement, the Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg observes that any change to the standards process “should not be based on a single case”.

Well maybe he should have thought of that yesterday. And maybe he did, but was overruled. I guess we’ll find out at the next reshuffle — or if he resigns.

Yet having made its fateful decision, the Government should not have u-turned. For a start it only lends weight to the opposition’s hyperbole on this issue. For instance, consider Pete Wishart of the SNP who accused the Government of “attempting to turn back the clock to the worst examples of 1990s Tory sleaze”.

This is nonsense. The Owen Paterson affair is small beer compared to the parliamentary scandals of the past. It involves no allegations of criminality — unlike, say, the parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009, which sent several MPs to prison. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Paterson’s actions. In fact, I’d support a complete ban on any paid public affairs work by a serving MP. If there’d been one, then this whole mess wouldn’t have happened. However, the rules were fudged — MPs can act as paid consultants in some circumstances but not in others. So what cases like this come down to is whether or not an MP has stayed on the right side of the fudge. 

With such judgements, MPs should have a right of appeal — as doctors or lawyers do in equivalent procedures. Boris Johnson made a valid point when he brought this up in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. 

But now, with today’s u-turn, he’s effectively handed a veto over the reform process to the opposition parties. They will use this influence to make life as difficult for the Government as they possibly can. Keir Starmer, whose manoeuvrings over Brexit put Theresa May in such an impossible position, must be salivating at the opportunity. 

Meanwhile, according to the BBC, it’s thought that “another vote will take place on whether Mr Paterson should be suspended.” So far from helping their mate, the Government has left him worse off than before. 

His case won’t be judged on its own merits, but as a symbol of “Tory sleaze”. Suspension could trigger a recall petition — and if at least 10% of Paterson’s constituents sign it, then that would force a by-election. 

Reaching this threshold may have been unlikely before, but 24 hours of utter idiocy has made it a near certainty.  

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Julia H
Julia H
1 year ago

This is just another in a series of u-turns though, and the impression it gives is of a government with a large majority but no principles and no strategy. Boris appears unable to stand his ground in the face of opposition. I’m pretty sick of the toxic blend of inaction and vacillation that is passing for governance of this country. The only thing that the government seems determined to do is rack up huge amounts of debt while it spaffs money on things the electorate has made quite clear that it doesn’t want.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Julia H

I find it unfathomable

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago

Emotional hyperbole and shrieking hyperventilation seems to get you a long way in politics.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

And life in general. Look at the way every decent man in Yorkshire cricket seems to have been shafted by one jealous failed player.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago

Well, the Boris could have pushed on with reforming the parliamentary standards system. But since the entire process had already been linked with the effort to protect Tory MPs from sanctions, the opposition would have had a field day attacking the new system as Tory cronyism – and *every* case would have been judged as a symbol of ‘Tory sleaze’ rather than on its merits. It is kind of hard to establish a credible standards system if the opposition refuses to share responsibility, let alone if you blatantly protect your own at the same time.

What happened to ‘when you are in a hole, stop digging’?

Last edited 1 year ago by Rasmus Fogh
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Um. Isn’t that exactly what did happen. Those digging the hole looked and realised their error. So they stopped digging. And admitted they were wrong. That’s a rather fine thing to do and they should be commendef

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
1 year ago

None of the reports has explained in any detail what the man did that was so wrong. If, when approaching ministers about a problem, he made it clear that he was in the pay of a firm that could benefit from his intervention, I can’t see why anyone would take issue with him. If he didn’t spell it out, he deserves everything he got. Will we be able to see the full report and judge for ourselves, or are we doomed to be fed the line to take by noisy hypocrites?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago
Reply to  Graeme Laws

As I understand it, he did *not* make it clear that he was in the pay of a firm that would benefit. Or, rather, he may have said it once, but he did not make it as clear, or as often, as the rules said he should, Then there was thousands of pounds in gifts for a trip to the US. He declared that they came from foundation, which was managed and administered by himself, but refused to say who gave them to the foundation.
Anyway, he was found guilty by standard procedures, by a committee with about 50% Tories on it.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
1 year ago

Of course Boris was right to reverse his decision on attempting to bail out Owen Paterson. Paterson’s corrupt behaviour was clear, and Boris was utterly wrong to try to bail out OP in the first place. One strongly suspects that this was the consequence of Lord Moore using his OE credentials to lobby the PM over dinner, on behalf of Moore’s university friend Owen Paterson. This sort of thing won’t do at all. It’s the sign of a tired, corrupt Tory Government and reminds me of the Major administration around 1995 -6, and it probably signals the last months or last year or two of the Tory rule. .

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
1 year ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

I’m sorry, Paterson’s “corrupt behaviour” isn’t very clear to me and I hope he persues his case through the Courts, if that is now possible.
What is very clear to me is that he was one of the best Ministers in Government in the last 20 years, until GangGreen successfully lobbied Cameron and Clegg to demote him. Because he’d punctured their lying balloons too often.
Just a coincidence that all this blew up just before FLOP26 kicked off? Just an unfortunate turn of phrase when the Commissioner said she had decided he was ‘obviously guilty’ before even seeing the evidence? Just happenchance that obvious GangGreen troughers like Gummer (“Lord Deben”) and his unaccountable “Climate Change Committee” are more venal and dishonest than Bernie Madoff dreamed about, but apparently smell of roses?

Angelique Todesco-Bond
Angelique Todesco-Bond
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Brumby

Martin, good to see someone else is reading beyond the lurid headlines.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Brumby

Well said. Interesting coincidence that this should all happen immediately after FLOP 27.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Brumby

From the results of the investigation, we know that Paterson was paid large sums to persuade Government decision-makers to favour his clients in ways that would increase their profits. I call that corruption, because one can reasonably ask if Paterson would have made the same efforts on behalf of these private interests if they had not paid him.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago

And the MP has now resigned!

D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Unlike the fragrant Ms Webbe. Or t’other one who “”wasn’t aware” of the housing benefit fraud being committed in her name.

George Knight
George Knight
1 year ago

It was a clumsy and amateurish way to deal with this situation. Paterson should have swallowed his pride and taken the punishment. Boris would have then been able to signal a review of the standards system at a later date.
The current outcome has let the SNP and Labour sing from the rooftops their favourite tune -“Tory sleaze”.
Boris’s card marked with “could do much better”.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  George Knight

The SNP and Labour don’t need an excuse to do that. It’s the only song they know

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

If the rules are a fudge, then they need amending. But to try to do so in the middle of a case involving one of your own, is asking for trouble.
Next time, wait until it’s a Labour MP in the dock.