New Times,
New Thinking.

Is Boris Johnson off the hook?

The biggest political risk for the government is that corrupt processes lead to poor outcomes.

By Stephen Bush

Boris Johnson has been exculpated (again) by his independent adviser on standards, Christopher Geidt. In a somewhat convoluted exchange of letters, Geidt has criticised the Prime Minister for not fully disclosing all his messages about the renovation of the Downing Street flat, written that it may have changed his findings had he known at the time… but kept his findings as they are.

One problem, of course, is that even had Geidt’s report found the Prime Minister had broken the ministerial code, there is no in-built ejector seat. Corruption and malfeasance in office are only applied in this country if a majority of MPs in the House of Commons are willing to force the matter; and thanks to our majoritarian electoral system, they mostly aren’t.

It may be that if parliament’s own commissioner on standards, Kathryn Stone, concludes differently, Conservative MPs judge that the political cost of sticking with Boris Johnson is no longer worth it – but it may not.

That said, the biggest political risk posed by the government’s approach isn’t the direct cost, politically, of any of these scandals. It’s that corrupt processes lead to poor outcomes: sooner or later the same decision-making that leads to a murky process for doing up a flat leads to a policy disaster with painful political and social consequences.

[See also: Is Jacob Rees-Mogg the best hope for the Conservative right?]

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