Oxford For Europe
4 November 2021
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The Paterson affair is more than just a matter for the Westminster bubble.
Are you a Tory MP? Did you vote for the Leadsom Amendment? If so here is what I have to say to you:
I was absolutely astounded that Andrea Leadsom’s amendment was allowed, and even more so that it was supported by the majority of your Conservative colleagues. I was not surprised at the outcry which followed, including from the Daily Mail and from Julia Hartley Brewer, both of whom regretted this ‘return to sleaze’. Nor was I surprised that the government has now decided to roll back on the acquittal it gave to Mr Paterson. He was convicted under a parliamentary procedure which was duly set up and supported by MPs of all parties, over serial offences of which he admitted he was guilty, and compounded the error by saying that he would do it again. And even in his resignation speech he referred to the ‘cruel world of politics’ as if he were in some way a victim. Even among his friends there were no MPs prepared to defend his actions.
To put this in perspective, the penalty originally proposed was a 30 day suspension with the possibility (not the certainty) that this might lead to the loss of his seat. If I as a GP were found guilty of a similar offence I would certainly have to face a GMC fitness to practice process, and I would be very surprised to get away without being erased from the medical register. The same thing would apply in most professions. To describe the parliamentary procedure as it stands as unduly harsh is totally unfounded. Even though Mr Paterson claims he was not allowed to bring witnesses, his witness’s statements were received in writing and taken into account, as were his tragic personal circumstances. There the matter should have rested. Trying to change the rules and bias them on party political lines would have generated justified opprobrium from the press and public at any time. To do so when there was a live case before parliament, with a haste which allowed no time for parliamentary consideration, is wholly indefensible. Even if it is withdrawn, the action taken against the parliamentary standards procedure will irreversibly damage the reputation of the Tory party for probity.
I have every respect for Tory MPs, including such individuals as Mark Harper and Nigel Mills, who voted against the amendment and stood up for parliamentary accountability, three line whip or not. Under public pressure, the Prime Minister has now in effect admitted that they were right to do so. As for those who supported the amendment, I shall put it politely and say that I hope they now recognise that they have put themselves on the wrong side of history, that they regret their decision and are prepared to say so. By doing so they may at least in part salvage the respect in which they are held by the voters.
Moment of the day, on BBC R4 Today: Nick Robinson: ‘Can you name a single thing that Boris Johnson has done to deliver higher integrity and probity in public life, just one?’. Kwasi Kwarteng: “He delivered Brexit”! Probity and Brexit in the same sentence. Could you ask for a more blatent example of an oxymoron? And how many other Tory MPs do not understand the meaning of the words integrity and probity?
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