Keir Starmer has accused the Conservative government of “corruption” after it whipped its MPs last night to vote to overhaul the system for policing MPs’ conduct. This let a former cabinet minister and Carrie Johnson’s former boss, Owen Paterson, off the hook, at least for the time being, after he was found to have broken lobbying rules by the independent standards committee.
The immediate plans to overhaul the system have since been ditched following outcry and disquiet among Conservative MPs this morning. “We have started a fire and we have no idea how to put the fire out or which direction it will burn in,” Nigel Mills, a Conservative MP who voted against the move, told Tim this morning before the U-turn was announced. He, despite voting against government orders, had already observed his inbox fill with anger from constituents. “What a disgusting bunch of immoral low lives you are,” read one message Mills received on Wednesday 3 November.
The question has turned to the damage this row – and the subsequent U-turn – will do to the Conservative Party come the next election, as well as the wider damage done to the reputation of our political class. But as Stephen argues, “the constituency of voters who you might describe as the “anti-corrupt” (that is to say, people who care so much about corruption that they will vote to punish it even if they are aligned with the government of the day on taxation, education, health, crime, climate change and the other big vote-moving issues) is so small as to be derisory.” No matter how much “cut through” this issue has with the public right now, it is unlikely to move the dial on its own at the next election.
But this is a trend from Boris Johnson’s government of sweeping away the checks and balances on his own government, be they international treaties, human rights law, parliament, or the standards committee. It matters, whether it comes at an electoral cost or not.