Johnson forced into an apology at last
It was the video of the PM’s advisers joking about their rule-breaking party that finally forced Boris Johnson into his first real apology. Prior to that, he had admitted that he “crashed the car” in his handling of the Owen Paterson row, without actually apologising to his MPs. He rarely says sorry. Even when blatantly caught out he generally carries on regardless with bluster and bravado while brushing aside or simply ignoring the thorniest issues and most probing questions. But with revelation after revelation exposed within Tory ranks, sleaze has been the seasonal gift to the Opposition that just keeps on giving. Not that the Opposition benches are completely embarrassment free, with even Sir Keir Starmer red-faced over previous second-job legal work he undertook before becoming Labour leader. Then there’s Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran who “deeply regrets” using her Westminster office for a paid, non-parliamentary meeting. But these disclosures are – to coin a Johnsonian expression he used when confronted about his £250,000 earnings from his Daily Telegraph column when London Mayor – “chicken feed” compared to the news spilling from the Tory benches. It’s happened before of course, but the Paterson bombshell has taken sleaze claims to a new level. The now former MP was found to have clearly broken Commons rules by repeatedly lobbying on behalf of two companies paying him hundreds of thousands of pounds. The government tried to block his brief suspension and rip up the disciplinary process, ordering their own MPs into a vote many found abhorrent. Uproar followed: in the House, from former prime ministers, and from even the usually supportive right-leaning sections of the Press, causing the government to swiftly abandon their plan.
Paterson resigned as an MP, but further disclosures followed. The most sensational possibly that Tory MP and former attorney general Geoffrey Cox has been in the Caribbean, moonlighting as a lawyer for the British Virgin Islands, ironically advising on corruption charges brought by the UK Foreign Office. The work is not against current parliamentary rules although undertaking it from his Commons office, which he accused of, is banned. Former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, and MPs Jonathan Djanogly, Steve Brine, Alun Cairns, Richard Fuller and former Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, are amongst those also revealed to have second-jobs or paid links to companies and organisations benefiting from government contracts or favourable rulings. The Prime Minister subsequently introduced a new plan to the Commons, one that is expected to lead to a ban on MPs taking paid political consultancy work. The move took Labour, ready with its own more comprehensive proposals, by surprise, but as Labour MPs abstained the Tories voted it through. All this may ease the sleaze pressure on both the government and the Prime Minister who, in what might be described as a damage limitation exercise, told a Downing Street Press briefing that the Paterson affair “could certainly have been handled better, let me put it that way, by me.” Still no word of apology, although with party and personal ratings plummeting, Johnson may yet have reason to feel sorry.