Why did it happen? What made Boris Johnson force his MPs through the lobbies in a brazen attempt to overturn the investigation of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, whitewash her findings on Owen Paterson – then backtrack and perpetrate perhaps the biggest crisis of his premiership?
You can quickly dismiss one explanation. Paterson wasn’t the victim of an inhumane act.
The investigation into his lucrative – and prohibited – lobbying of Ministers was imperfect. It was also flawed that there wasn’t an appeals procedure. And the backdrop – the suicide of his wife Rose – was tragic.
He was convicted as charged. One Tory MP said to me, “I like Owen.” It is time to review the operation of the Standards Commissioner. He was right. He did it.’
What made Boris Johnson force his MPs through the lobbies in a brazen attempt to overturn the investigation of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, whitewash her findings on Owen Paterson – then backtrack and perpetrate perhaps the biggest crisis of his premiership?
Boris understands that he did it. The shambolic management of the last few days wasn’t part of an noble effort to rescue a colleague who had committed an inexcusable wrong.
It was also not the result of an elaborate conspiracy as some Prime Minister critics claimed.
They claim that this whole thing was an ill-advised strike by No 10, to prevent Parliament’s watchdog digging into the source of funds for Prime Minister’s Downing Street apartment refurbishment.
Boris and Stone have a lot in common, but Stone was found to be violating Commons rules regarding Mustique vacation. The verdict was overturned later by a panel representing all parties.
However, the Downing Street flat problem has been reviewed by both the ministerial standard adviser and the Electoral Commission and there has not been any serious wrongdoing. It does not appear that it would be under Stone’s purview.
There is more evidence to support the claim that this story was not the result of some clever masterplan. It would have taken some real thought. To come up with a real strategy, smart people will need to think.
And the humiliating, multi-laned, and omni-shambolic political pileup did not have such oversight.
You need to understand several facts in order to fully comprehend what happened. First, there’s a political hole in No 10. In a matter of weeks last year, the Cabinet Secretary and Chief of Staff as well as the Communications Director, Senior Prime Ministerial Advisor, all fled. One Minister stated that there was no one who could tap Boris on his shoulder and tell him, “Don’t be stupid.” It’s impossible. You’re not doing that.
The investigation into his lucrative – and prohibited – lobbying of Ministers was imperfect. It was also flawed that there wasn’t an appeals process. And the backdrop – the suicide of his wife Rose – was tragic
Dan Rosenfield is the new Chief Of Staff and Simon Case the new Cabinet Secretary are not of sufficient authority or stature.
The Prime Minister’s spouse Carrie, along with her loose group of advisers, has created the Whitehall’s only real example of serious political architecture. However, their grasp on the events has been weakened as evidenced by this week’s past week.
Although not quite as secure as his grip on the Prime Minister, it is still a stronghold. Boris is a politician with many talents, as his unmatched string of success has shown. However, these successes have been detrimental to Boris.
He is now complacent. Shorn of any serious external political opposition, consistently defying gravity in the opinion polls and bolstered by an unassailable 80-seat majority, he feels can do – and get away with – whatever he likes.
Only four months have passed since the humiliating U turn he had to make after attempting to escape Covid isolation. That time, the retreat took hours. But it was too late.
One Minister said that he thinks he is Henry VIII. He rules through his courtiers. He doesn’t need to worry about Labour opposition. He can just continue to govern by decree and whim.
Some of these former courtiers are currently under fire. Andrew Griffith and Sarah Dines are the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary. The Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretaries act as his “eyes and ears”, reporting back to No 10. on the state of the parliamentary party and giving advice about how it can be managed.
Last week, they did exactly the opposite. One MP said that they were simply pointing out people who are arrogant or offensive.
“They said, “This is what they’re going do.” They are not allowed to do that. This is not their job.
Others – including allies of the Prime Minister – have tried to lay the blame for the fiasco on Chief Whip Mark Spencer. Boris, however, said he was opposed to the decision.
A Minister added: “People say this was a failure in whipping. Mark was able get his party through the lobbies with the help of something they suspected to be mad. He performed his duties admirably. He is not the problem.
Many Tory MPs assume they know the truth. While they feel Boris is a fraud and has lost his authority, many Tory MPs have angered Owen Paterson’s backbenchers, especially the group of senior backbenchers that called themselves ‘the Spartans.
One younger Tory backbencher said to me that “they’re at its heart.” “They have been flaunting this falsehood of “I am a Spartan” for a while. They are arrogant Tory Party leaders. Finally, they were caught. It’s their fault. This is their tragedy.
You could be right. However, there is a reason that the Spartans are so proud of their ability to run the party. They’ve done exactly that for the last few years.
The Spartans pushed David Cameron to a Brexit referendum. They voted for Boris and overthrew Theresa May. And it was the Spartans who led the charge into the valley of death on behalf of Paterson – with the Prime Minister trailing forlornly in their wake.
According to one Minister, “Boris know Starmer can’t touch” him. He knew the people still love him. He knew that the Spartans were his only true danger. He did this to try and keep them onboard.
It’s not a feasible strategy. One Cabinet Minister stated, “It’s over now for the Spartans.” They’re finished. Over the coming months, you will see the rest of parliamentary party reaffirming itself. The MPs who are centrist. The youngest MPs. The younger MPs will say “You had a great run.” It’s now our turn. “
It could be wishful thinking. Even though they feel chastened over the recent events, Spartans will not retreat to the shadows. Worryingly, No 10 is filled with resentment toward a Prime Minister who abandoned them and their family in their time of greatest need.
However, it is not about them. It’s about their coworkers. Owen Paterson. Prim Minister is directly responsible for the chaos of this past week. His complacency. His willingness to tolerate – indeed preside over – dysfunctionality in Downing Street. He gave up control of his party to cliques and factions.
What is the reason for this? Boris made it happen. Boris can’t allow it to happen again.