Seven deadly sins revisited
Today the Conservative government ordered its MPs to back a review of standards investigations, meaning that Tory MP, Owen Paterson avoided suspension for 30 days for breaking the rules banning paid lobbying.
Back in January, I wrote this article.
After today’s debacle in the Commons and endless catalogue of breaches to the Parliament’s own Code of Conduct, I feel the need to readdress the issue. For me, today’s vote is deeply worrying. I feel that not only is democracy lying shrouded in a coffin right now, but the final nails are being hammered in. Soon all possibility of resurrection will have transpired. I do not know whether I am more inclined to weep or rage.
To quote the ministerial code:
“Once elected to Parliament, all MPs must abide by the seven principles of public life which form the basis of ethical standards expected of holders of public office. These are set out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and are: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. It is a requirement that any holder of public office must be truthful and must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.“
Read these words carefully. Let them sink in. Read the words below too. I did not write them as a wish list. They have been agreed by elected honourable members. They are there to protect the public and to hold all MPs to account whatever their political persuasion. The code is there to ensure that our elected public servants behave honourably and that democracy is preserved.
“Upon election, MPs are also subject to the House of Commons Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members. Included in the code is a general duty on MPs to ‘act in the interests of the nation as a whole; and a special duty to their constituents’, alongside a requirement that MPs “act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them. They should always behave with probity and integrity, including in their use of public resources.”
Whatever spin Jacob Rees-Mogg, Andrea Leadsom and all those that supported them put on the matter brought before the Commons today, it does not wash with me. Today was more than a travesty of justice and integrity. It has left the Commons in a very dark limbo. At this very moment in time, we are left with no due process to hold MPs to account. In due course, we have been told there will be a new system where MPs alone will be judge and jury of their own actions. This is beyond a slippery slope, especially when one party has such a huge majority.
The Committee of Standards is a cross-party, committee which comprises seven lawmakers (four Conservative) and seven lay members. This Committee decided that Paterson committed an “egregious case of paid advocacy”.
This isn’t some minor breach. Paterson abused his position. He acted selfishly, dishonestly and without integrity or probity. He lobbied to promote two companies which, in turn, paid him nearly three times his annual, parliamentary salary.
Additionally, he used rooms and resources, paid for by the taxpayer to conduct business with them. This is surely, inexcusable as is the behaviour of the government who have sought to ‘halt’ his suspension.
The procedures of the committee may well need an overhaul. However, what happened today is no way to proceed. Furthermore, the Conservative Party was whipped to vote the way they did. Surely, this too, is unacceptable in what is a wholly cross-party issue. It is a scandalous abuse of power. As a member of the public, I fail to see how the government, on this occasion has acted “in accordance with the public trust placed in them.”
Am I really alone in this?
So where does today leave us? Jacob Rees-Mogg talks about the camel’s straw. Well, for me, this could well be the camel’s straw that breaks the back of our democracy. We are sunk if we cannot hold our MPs to account.
In no other profession would people keep their jobs, if it was demonstrated that they had breached their professional code so flagrantly.
And Steve Baker’s talking about the unfairness of a suspension because it might then lead to deselection and jeopardise a person’s livelihood, is quite honestly pathetic in my opinion.
It is my view that Paterson deserves to lose his job because he has lost the public’s trust.
Of course, I take no pleasure that his wife took her own life in the midst of this investigation. I know only too well the trauma of losing a partner suddenly. However, this sad turn of events can not be used as mitigation for his behaviour. If he hadn’t have broken the rules the committee would not have had to investigate.
Similarly, Rob Roberts, MP for Delyn should not be given back Tory Party membership because he deemed his sexual harassment of a male member of staff as ‘romantic’ rather than ‘sexual’. This is particularly pertinent in the light of all the discussion at the moment of lack of prosecution for sexual offences.
What has happened today, makes turning a blind eye to the seedy ministerial holidays, the unwarranted pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, sloth and downright lies of so many of our MPs seem like chicken feed.
I want to see a return to decent values.
I want my MPs to represent me.
I want to trust them.
What do we do? We can lobby our own MPs, however disheartening that may be.
We can also consider signing and sharing the following petitions: