by Martin Odoni

Before I begin, let me point out the ease with which Boris Johnson can be made to u-turn when there is a proper public backlash against unashamed Tory corruption. Anyone who says protest is futile is making excuses not to bother, and failing to see how public outcries have caused spectacular retreats by politicians and other powerful interests just over the last eighteen months.

Owen Paterson’s conduct had a name in the 1990s. It is the product of casual corruption and a Government in power too long, according to Dr. David Starkey. It is what New Labour, amidst their failed promises to be ‘whiter-than-white’ if they got into office, called; –

Sleaze.’

The Tories in the mid-90s were absolutely mired in sleaze. It was what made it so easy to beat them. Sadly, New Labour proved little better when in Government, with a corrupt stench surrounding the likes of Peter Mandelson, Keith Vaz, David Blunkett, Dr John Reid, and Tony Blair himself with his cash-for-honours crimes.

The reason it happens is because it can. It is too easy for the corrupt to behave corruptly in such a corrupt environment. The restrictions in place against MPs using their position on the ‘inside’ to enrich themselves are laughably weak; to an extent, all they have to do to get away with some forms of sleaze is simply to admit they are doing it.

Textbook sleaze by Owen Paterson

This is only underlined by the reaction in Parliament to Paterson’s breathtaking shabby dealings. Instead of anger and condemnation for Paterson, instead of ferocious and determined promises to expose what happened, or commitments to make reforms so it cannot happen again, what did we get? The Tories simply – and predictably – decided, “Oops, one of us broke the rules, but don’t worry, everyone, we’ve come up with the perfect solution. We’re going to get rid of the body enforcing the rules.” In the process, they also tried to call off Paterson’s (already incredibly light) punishment.

To Tory embarrassment, Paterson has now resigned from Parliament, while giving statements using the tragic death of his wife to deflect condemnation. He is not doing himself any favours. But there are so many other aspects of this that are wrong, it is difficult to say which is the most galling.

One is that during the riots ten years ago, people were getting custodial sentences for stealing bottles of water, worth about 60p each. Also we should consider during last year’s riot in London, one man was put behind bars for urinating in a public place. Sure, it was a disgusting spectacle, but really, in the cold light of day, what harm did it do?

Compare that to Paterson. He provided access to the workings of Government to rich lobbies. He corruptly loaned them his voting power, to try and alter the outcomes of legislative debates. He then engaged the voting process afterwards through the force of money, not objective assessment of the issues. He acted, not for his constituents, but for lobbyists who paid him money outside of his MP’s salary, to conduct himself differently as an MP. He used his position to allow whoever pays him most money to make his decisions, instead of using it to advance the interests of those he represents. Money can buy so much for people, why should that include influence in Government?

Paterson’s punishment was a 30-day suspension from Parliament. No requirement to return the money, no fines, no imprisonment, not even a community service order. No, just thirty days not allowed to take his seat. Because he is in the Westminster Bubble. But MPs tried to spare him even that.

Irrespective of the ‘review’ of the rules self-interested MPs have now voted for – including Paterson himself who was somehow allowed to take part in the vote – the punishment should have been upheld. Outside the Commons, the law of the land would not allow ordinary people to get away with a transgression just because the law was changed after the transgression.

Perhaps that is the most galling point for me. It fundamentally violates one of the most basic principles of law; a subsequent rules change should still not in any way protect a transgressor. Paterson knowingly dodged the old rules while they were still in place. He must give account under those rules.

Owen Paterson may be resigning, but he is still effectively getting off scot-free

But, as usual, Parliament acts like a club, members convinced they are ‘too special’ for principles to apply to themselves. Look at Rob Roberts, guilty of sexual harassment, but spared a recall poll due to a technical loophole that the Government only closed a few weeks after he was suspended. The Government refused to reassess Roberts’ case under the altered rules. I would say that was correct. But why could Roberts’ case not be subject to altered rules retroactively, if Paterson’s can?

Principle is not driving this, what is driving it is which outcome is beneficial to Boris Johnson’s Government.

Parliament was created to give people a say in how they are governed via representation. A fine principle, but most of the people doing the representing have muddied it, allowing themselves to become too self-important. They are only beneath those who give them the most money, not their electorate. We can be certain that plenty of MPs, in most corners of the Commons, have been guilty to some extent of similar corruption. Hence many Labour MPs opposed the move to postpone and review yesterday. Covering their own backs.

And that is before we raise the issue of the six-year witch-hunt to overthrow the party’s old leader and expel his allies, and the cynical burial of the Forde Report by the rancid Keir Starmer. Keep the hypocrisy in check, Labour MPs, you remain the lesser evil at best.

No wonder the general public feel alienated from politics.