Is Boris Johnson waving away his credibility as PM?

Imagine for a minute, if the Government had last week accepted Owen Paterson had breached lobbying rules and ushered him away into the political wilderness.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has adopted a 'hands off' approach to the Owen Paterson scandal
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has adopted a 'hands off' approach to the Owen Paterson scandal

Tory MPs would not have been shamefully bullied into voting for something most of them were against, and the Government’s reputation would not have dragged through the mire in yet another a sleaze row.

Instead, after a gross mishandling of the whole episode, the scandal simply refuses to go away.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle hit the nail squarely on the head when he said it had created a “dangerous and volatile” atmosphere around politics.

“Everybody is tarnished,” he said, adding that Parliament needed to learn from the shambolic scenes in the Commons last week before any more damage was caused.

At this juncture it is hard to see how the House could be plunged any deeper into disrepute.

Boris Johnson appears to care little for the whole affair, having skipped Monday’s debate on standards and showing no inclination to apologise for behaviour that has been widely condemned by his own backbenchers among others.

The Prime Minister is likely to view the scandal as a Westminster bubble story that will cause no long-term damage to his administration; a “storm in a teacup”, as Environment Secretary George Eustice called it.

But on this occasion he may well be wrong.

While many Tory MPs were pleased to see “regret” expressed by ministers during the aforementioned standards debate, some remain furious they have been set up as easy targets over a vote that should never have been required in the first place.

There is talk in the Tory ranks of a lack of leadership on Mr Johnson’s part, coming at a time when many have privately expressed frustration that the Government is yet to deliver on key policy pledges such as clamping down on illegal immigration.

It certainly doesn’t help MPs in areas such as the West Midlands, that while they are loyally preaching the Government’s levelling up mantra, ministers have needlessly embroiled them in a scandal that is not of their own making.

If Mr Johnson simply expects the whole thing to blow over he may have another thing coming.

His actions – and his refusal to apologise – have galvanised a previously floundering opposition, and more importantly, left a huge question mark hanging over public trust. It will not have escaped his attention that in some polls the Conservatives have slipped behind Labour, while Mr Johnson’s personal approval ratings have also plunged.

Professor Matt Cole, a politics expert at the University of Birmingham, said the Government’s handling of the scandal had “reopened the Pandora’s Box issue of trust in MPs”. He added: “At times of prosperity and consensus, otherwise popular governments can ride out these episodes. In-between austerity and a looming cost-of-living crisis, a figure as divisive as Johnson may struggle to limit the impact of sleaze allegations.”

Back in the Commons, meanwhile, MPs have backed a reform of the standards system, which the majority of them on both sides of the House admit is not fit for purpose.

It remains to be seen whether this will involve a clampdown on MPs having second jobs or taking on consultancy work, an issue which has been highlighted after details of Mr Paterson’s earnings from two companies came to light.

Geoffrey Cox MP – a key figure during the unruly Brexit debates of a couple of years back – reportedly gets paid a fortune from a second job as an advisor to the government of the British Virgin Islands.

Some Labour MPs also hold second jobs, including Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, who has earned more than £140,000 over the last three years for speeches and hosting a radio show. But while some MPs believe elected members should rely solely on their taxpayer funded salaries, others see the issue as far more complex.

Nicola Richards, Conservative MP for West Bromwich East, said asking MPs to agree to only having one income could block working class people from entering politics.

“If you want MPs elected that don’t come from generations of wealth, you are not going to get that if people can’t have other jobs,” she said. “No MP should be lobbying for companies they are representing, and clearly they should make sure there is no conflict of interest.”

Most Read

Most Read

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News