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16 June 2022

Who in their right mind would replace Christopher Geidt?

It’s difficult to be an ethics adviser to a man with no interest in being ethical.

By Jonn Elledge

The big question that arises from Christopher Geidt’s resignation as the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser on Wednesday night is: who in their right mind is going to want that job? Boris Johnson has made it clear, repeatedly, that he regards ethics mainly as “that county just above Kent he’d prefer not to visit”. Two holders of the post in a row have resigned once it became clear he had absolutely no intention of following their advice. And City Hall and Westminster alike are littered with the tattered reputations of people who thought it in their interest to provide political cover for this charlatan, only to find that he’s about as interested in loyalty as he is in moral philosophy.

Given all that – who would let their head within ten feet near that particular block? They’d need to be either desperate for attention or not care about appearances even slightly. That suggests a choice between whoever emerges as the biggest villain on the current season of Love Island (probably Davide), and Al Capone.

For half a day after Geidt resigned, of course, the other question was what it was that had pushed him over the edge as, with its usual commitment to transparency and accountability, Downing Street tried to withhold his resignation letter. On Thursday’s Today programme, the deputy prime minister Dominic Raab – something of an expert on how it feels to humiliate oneself on behalf of Johnson – gave two possible explanations.

One was that Geidt had been asked to look at a “commercially sensitive matter in the national interest”, which later turned out to be something to do with steel subsidies. That, if anything, only raises more questions – he could put up with the parties, and the lying to parliament, and the fact a sitting prime minister was fined for breaking a law that he himself had introduced, but the steel subsidies were somehow too much? What? – so let’s move onto the other.

That was that his lordship had a frankly humiliating time before a committee of MPs on Tuesday (sample quote: “I’m an asset of the prime minister as a minister of the crown… There is some small limitation on the capacity of the independent adviser to be truly independent”). Announcing to a parliamentary watchdog that your publicly funded job is completely and utterly pointless must, no doubt, make it hard to remain in post, if you still have even the scintilla of self-respect, so that seems likely to be it.

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This, it is becoming increasingly clear, is the key characteristic of the entire Johnson project: it isn’t merely that it does bad things, it’s that it doesn’t care that we can see it. How else to explain the fact Johnson rewrote the foreword to the ministerial code to remove all inconvenient words such as “honesty”, “integrity” and “accountability”? How else, come to that, to explain Jacob Rees-Mogg’s attempt to pose as a defender of the British constitution, even as he lies about it what it contains, and lies, indeed, in a way that directly contradicts the things he said about the previous government in which he was not, as it happened, a minister? It isn’t merely that Johnson lacks moral fibre himself: it’s that his way of doing business also drains it from anyone who happens to get too close. Perhaps Christopher Geidt, like Alex Allan before him, was simply getting out while he still could.

There are still plenty of useful idiots more than happy to defend the indefensible, of course. More than half the parliamentary Conservative Party are still, against all the evidence from polls and focus groups and local election results, sticking with the Prime Minister as their best chance of retaining their seats. Good luck with that. On Wednesday, Allister Heath, the editor of the Sunday Telegraph, went so far as to write a column arguing that “Britain is in ruins thanks to the dogmas of the permanent leftist elite”, which is an interesting take after 12 years of a Conservative-led government. Perhaps the Tories are trying to rebrand as the party of personal irresponsibility – nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine anyone credible stepping up to the plate to take over from Geidt because honestly what’s the use.

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If the Prime Minister can’t find a new ethics adviser, of course, he can always follow that kite being flown in the Telegraph and abolish the post altogether. There’ll be outrage – but, while this government survives, is it really any worse than retaining an ethics adviser and proceeding to ignore their advice?

And survive it well might: as Boris Johnson realised many years ago, the one weird trick to surviving political scandals is “just don’t resign”. In a few days’ time, the news will have moved on, and those of us who still keep banging on about last week’s misdeeds will look like obsessives who need to get a life. Once again, as he did the last 300 times, he will have gotten away with it.

This is, of course, morally abhorrent. But – well, who’s going to tell him that?

[ See also: What does Christopher Geidt’s resignation mean for Labour? ]

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