If you’re ‘a bit’ corrupt, or like to make a little bit of money on the side like Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady - say, you’re worried that new plans that are likely to stop you being ‘a bit’ corrupt, but you know you’re in charge of an influential lobbying group that can make or break Conservative Prime Ministers.
What do you want from the Prime Minister so that you can carry on being ‘a bit’ corrupt rather than not being corrupt at all?
Mostly, however, the knowledge that the new motion and rules on MPs with consultancy roles do not affect you ‘too much’ - which, according to the fineprint on the government’s amendment [which itself relates to 2018 Committee on Standards in Public Life report called ‘Outside Interests’ - which you can read here], it won’t seeing as the Conservatives have requested only two recommendations be adopted.
Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy
Sir Graham Brady, of course, was one of the many in the 1922 Committee that called upon Johnson to explain his decision to try and empower a Labour motion - further clarity was needed after Conservative MPs were bereft and as noted in Pt V, described it in certain cases as “bag of fag packet stuff” and “a capitulation” to opposition.
Actually, Johnson faced fellow Conservatives in the 1922 Committee and admitted to them that he’d “crashed the car into a ditch.”
Disaster averted for Johnson?
Not quite, maybe, to some extent - or at least until those MPs see the motion in practice and they’ll be the judge - but what about tackling ‘sleaze’ for us proles - does it sufficiently deal with the fundamental concerns we have of [mostly] Conservative politicians enriching themselves using their positions?
It doesn’t appear so, nor does there appear to be any timetable as to when any of it is likely to be implemented.
And ministers’ responses when asked [like Dominic Raab] seem to lack any detail or clarity - as if they don’t know.
But then Conservative MPs appear to ‘know’ or at least acknowledge that the plan was hashed out, with one senior Conservative telling PoliticsHome that the government indicated it felt it “had to do something” [anything!] to better opposition.
Actually, it appears the Conservative amendment is deliberately ineffectual; especially when - looking at the fineprint as suggested in the amendment put forward by Boris Johnson, it seems that Owen Paterson would probably still be eligible to do the job that has created this furore to begin with.
The broader aspect of what the Conservatives’ amendment hopes to achieve is that they think the matter will be solved by the introduction of a time-limit - ambiguously described in Johnson’s letter to Sir Lindsay Hoyle as “within reasonable limits” on second jobs [or ‘between 10 to 15 or 20 a week’ according to Anne Marie Trevelyan].
Which is fine if you’re Owen Paterson, of course, who worked less than 5 hours a week and still earned £100,000 a year, or Sir Graham Brady himself who, “receive[s] remuneration of £2,500 a quarter, for a commitment of about 3 hours a quarter.” - or £10,000 for 12 hours work.
Indeed, excellent analysis by The Guardian indicated that fewer than 10 MPs would be affected by the changes if they were introduced as the Conservatives hope, supporting the view that the Conservative plans are “ineffectual.”
As if by cue
To meet the onslaught of the media, however, the Tories did as this page predicted it might two weeks ago - as it predicted it might in September with the appointment of Nadine Dorries as culture secretary.
Dorries was wheeled out “as if by cue” attacking Laura Kuenssberg on Twitter in such a deliberately outrageous tweet designed with the sole intention of detracting from the issue being spoken about - on ‘Corruption’ - which has since been deleted [by Dorries herself].
I described Dorries as a walking, talking ‘Wave machines in the Channel’ back in article #1 on this page back in September - basically, a ‘dead cat’ in human form.
Actually, Dorries is more like Chunk from The Goonies - specifically the scene where Mikey is holding a framed treasure map leading to One Eyed Willy’s “rich stuff” but is too afraid to crack it open.
So Mikey hands the frame to Chunk and counts down from 5 on his fingers knowing full-well that Chunk will drop it - eventually leading to the much-later scene not shown in the film where all the chaos, trouble, stress and worries caused by The Goonies’ adventure searching for some 17th century Spanish pirate’s treasure [no doubt ending in their consequent ‘grounding’] can be blamed entirely on hapless pizza-addict Chunk having smashed the picture frame thus enabling the Goonies to go on said adventure in the first place.
And if the ‘Wave machines in the Channel’ was far too much in terms of suspension of disbelief, “as if by cue”, the Conservatives wheel out ‘the obligatory migrant story’ on the front pages of The Times and The Daily Mail.
This isn’t unexpected when as part of the 1922 Committee meeting, it was noted - according to Politics Home that - rather than discussing the amendment relating to Standards in Public Life, “90% questions [were] about small boats.”
And the stories in The Times and Mail were complete bollocks, too - this ridiculous story about how the UK is going to fly asylum seekers to an off-shore processing station in Albania - when even Albania’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Olta Xhaçka has denied it.
Rather, negotiations are ongoing.
In the Times’ case, they erroneously described Albania’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs as a man [note: “she” isn’t a man] to the chagrin of Xhaçka who said:
Back to lies, back to reality…
One of the biggest lies of all, of course, comes in the form of the Conservatives’ levelling up pledge - yesterday alone they scrapped a manifesto promise to extend HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds and to deliver a high-speed line across the Pennines; described as a “betrayal” and a “second class ticket for the North.”
But even when attempting to change the optics towards this apparent success story according to Johnson [note: it isn’t], the Prime Minister couldn’t escape the scrutiny of the ‘sleaze’ allegations - specifically those applied to himself when asked if he would give up free holidays and declare his interests in the proper way in the light of the new Commons focus on standards.
“I always declare everything in the normal way. I was very glad to see the House of Commons approving yesterday a cross-party approach - and I think that’s what we need to do.”
This isn’t true either.
Actually, Johnson has been repeatedly criticised by the Commons standards committee over the way he declares interests and in a report from 2019 it was noted that making late declarations had become “a pattern of behaviour” for Johnson, and the Prime Minister displayed “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the house”.
Indeed, a report from this year alone said that it was “unsatisfactory” that Johnson took so long when asked to clarify about his holiday in Mustique, and how it was declared - which comes at a time when Johnson suspiciously [and only recently] declared a flight to Marbella although fell short of declaring the full cost of the trip.
What’s interesting about the convergence of all of these stories is that even when ‘dead cat strategy’ is implemented, something else happens where another must be applied to detract from the other.
You begin with the constant slew of ‘sleaze’ coverage - which is thankfully proceeding in the media unabated - which then the government rather hopes will get covered up by some story or other about Nadine Dorries or migrants, and even when that all goes to pot, they make some clinical error of judgment where they’re forced to either a) back peddle or b) throw another ‘dead cat’ on the table.
Once again, if the polls are anything to go by, the public seem to be getting rather sick of it - though not sick enough, evidently.
Whether anybody ever took Johnson seriously to begin with is a matter I’ve addressed elsewhere on this page but the point I’ve made before is that now Covid is out of the way [it isn’t] and Brexit is “done” [it isn’t], we see a return to “boring” politics where serious matters are concerned and manifesto commitments take precedent.
This is a fundamental weakness for the Conservatives because they were never elected on the basis of ‘serious politics’ to begin with, so naturally, where ‘serious politics’ is concerned, it has all rather expectedly gone to pot.
Johnson expects to be taken seriously, however. He expects to be perceived as the “delivery” driver that gets things “done.”
But how can you expect to be taken seriously to deliver on anything when - on one hand, you've driven the gravy train of sleaze halfway towards a point that no longer exists and is allegedly stuck somewhere between Leeds and Manchester, and on the other hand, as you've quite eloquently stated, have ‘driven the car into a ditch’?
I mean, it says first [among many things] that you're at least a terrible driver but based on your Uber rating alone, I don't know if I'd trust your capabilities to begin with when you're either going to be driving your passengers blindfolded towards the non-existent sunlit uplands or - most likely - launching us over the top of Beachy Head.
It reminds me of that bumper sticker you sometimes see attached to the rear door on a van that reads, “how am I driving?”
With Boris Johnson the driver, as it turns out, rather badly indeed - least of all by the Conservatives’ own estimations.
Which says everything, really.