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29 April 2022

The endless scandals at Westminster are evidence of more than just a toxic workplace

There is a pattern emerging: a lack of respect for standards in public life.

By Freddie Hayward

Pressure is mounting on the Tory party to expel an MP accused of watching pornography in the House of Commons chamber. The chief whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, has called for the matter to be referred to the independent complaints process. But the complaints process can take months, even years. Caroline Noakes, the Conservative chair of the women and equalities committee, told PoliticsHome she was “disappointed” that the whips had not already suspended the accused MP.

The story is one of several revelations about MPs’ inappropriate behaviour this week. Yesterday, the Labour MP Liam Byrne was found to have bullied a staff member. Meanwhile, the Conservative MP Jamie Wallis (who recently came out as trans) was charged with failing to stop after a car crash. The MP for Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan, has finally handed in his resignation – which comes into effect tomorrow – after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. In total, 56 MPs are said to be under investigation for sexual misconduct – that’s almost 9 per cent of all MPs. 

This week’s revelations are hard to separate from a broader collapse in respect for public propriety. In January the chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, William Wragg, accused government whips of blackmailing and intimidating MPs believed to be questioning Boris Johnson’s leadership. In November, the government tried to change parliament rules to protect the Tory MP Owen Paterson from suspension after he was found to have broken lobbying rules.

The pattern emerging is a lack of respect for standards in public life. The concern among some MPs is that parliament’s reputation for sleaze and misconduct will be as damaging as the expenses scandal in 2009. While the revelations will tarnish parliament’s reputation, the real concern is whether a certain number of MPs can abide by rules of common decency. Their role as the people’s representatives raises questions not only about Westminster as a place of work but the proper functioning of our system.

[See also: The sexist culture in Westminster reveals itself once more]

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