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The Tories’ latest sex scandal is consuming the business of government

More allegations over Christopher Pincher’s conduct are frustrating Boris Johnson’s bid to “move on” from his various crises.

By Freddie Hayward

Further allegations of sexual misconduct against Christopher Pincher MP, who resigned last week as deputy chief whip, have been published this morning (4 July 2022) as the case creates more danger for the Prime Minister.

The news over the weekend is the latest in a string of revelations about the behaviour of MPs in Westminster. It’s worth remembering that Pincher is the fifth Conservative MP to be accused of some form of sexual misconduct since April. And that nearly 9 per cent of all MPs are reported to be under investigation for sexual misconduct.

Beyond the culture of inappropriate and abusive conduct among MPs, the question for the Prime Minister is whether he dismissed concerns about Pincher before appointing him in February as deputy chief whip – a position in part responsible for overseeing MPs’ behaviour. On the broadcast round on Sunday 3 July, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, with apparent reluctance, said to the “best of my understanding” Johnson had “not been aware of specific allegations”. That line may not hold for long. Back in 2020, Johnson is reported to have said: “He’s handsy, that’s a problem. Pincher by name, pincher by nature.”

Not only will this reinforce the perception that the Prime Minister does not take allegations of misconduct seriously, but it also indicates that he prioritises loyalty over competence in his ministers. That’s not a new insight. But this scandal demonstrates the danger this strategy poses for Johnson. Combined with his own proclivity for scandal, a lightweight cabinet has left Johnson unable to dictate the political agenda or draw attention to the government’s policy announcements.

The Prime Minister is due to appear before senior backbenchers at the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday 6 July as the Pincher scandal shows no sign of abating. This is likely to be another week consumed by controversy and speculation about Johnson’s precarious position.

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[See also: What did Boris Johnson know about Chris Pincher?]

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

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