Thursday, 4 November 2021

Consequences are for other people


Presumably, Boris Johnson and the majority of his MPs are feeling rather pleased with themselves this morning after their little ruse to let their mate, Owen Paterson, off the hook yesterday. There is no obvious sign that anyone other than Paterson himself believes that he is not guilty as charged; the fig leaf behind which the rest of them are trying to hide is more about whether he should be allowed an appeal before sentence is carried out or whether the sentence should be reduced on compassionate grounds. One of the problems the Tory MPs have is that there are an awful lot of them, and it’s a very small fig leaf.

As ever with Boris Johnson, it looks like a last minute quick fix in an attempt to resolve an immediate problem (which some have argued might actually have more to do with changing the rules before an investigation is carried out into one B. Johnson than with helping out a supposed mate who didn’t even go to the same school). And also as ever with Johnson, there seems to have been little thought given to what happens next, or what any other consequences might be. Appointing a new ‘jury’ with a built-in majority in favour of the defendant might look like a wizard wheeze, but it’s completely unclear whether it can even go ahead if the other parties refuse to collude, as currently seems likely. It also raises serious questions about all those MPs who have previously faced sanctions under the same procedure. If so-called ‘natural justice’ means that the latest miscreant must have a right to appeal, does that not mean that all those others who have been judged and sentenced under the same procedure with no such right now have a right to claim that they are victims of a process which the government itself has declared to be fundamentally ‘unfair’? It might or might not be true that there are flaws in the current process, but if there are, they didn’t suddenly appear as a result of the latest case – and any fix for those flaws cannot fairly be applied only to one offender.

There were, apparently, a total of 13 Tory MPs who voted against the move, out of a total of around 360. Less than 4%. That tiny proportion underlines the extent to which principles, consistency, honesty and respect for the rules have been ruthlessly driven out of the governing party by a clique interested only in promoting their own interests. In the long term – as with much of what Johnson does – his actions are counterproductive for his party and will strengthen the case for longer term change. In this instance, that means an even stronger and more independent system for investigating rule breaches by MPs is required – no more marking their own homework. But that isn’t a problem for Johnson; he cares little for the long term as his actions in other areas (Brexit, climate change …) make abundantly clear. He cares only about what suits himself in the here and now – the longer term repercussions are for someone else to deal with.

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