Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major this morning became the latest figure to hit out at the current government over the the Owen Paterson scandal.
Major, the man who led the party’s government in 1990-97, described the behaviour of the current cabinet as’very Un-Conservative’. He also claimed some of their actions are ‘politically corrupt.
‘There’s a general whiff of “we are the master’s now” about their behaviour and I think this is cutting through to the public,’ Major told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme.
He said, “It seems that I as a lifetime conservative that many of their actions are very un-conservative in their behaviour.”
His appearance on the show came after a Daily Mail poll found 57 percent of voters agreed with chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and former MI5 chief Lord Evans’ assertion that Britain could ‘slip into becoming a corrupt country’.
The poll was carried out during an extraordinary week in Westminster, which ended with former Cabinet minister Mr Paterson resigning as an MP – and senior Tories seriously questioning the judgment of Mr Johnson, who had backed him.
Major specifically referred to the poll and stated that Major thought the government’s handling of it was “shameful, wrong, and indecent.”
‘A number of Conservative MPs rebelled and very well done them – I wish more had had the courage to do so and I suspect they will in future because they were put in a dreadful position by the Prime Minister.’
The poll found the public believe Boris Johnson is leading the ‘sleaziest’ government in more than 40 years of British politics and is considered more than twice as ‘sleazy’ as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
The Prime Minister still leads Sir Keir, despite widespread criticisms of his handling of an attempt at abandoning the parliamentary standards system.
Sir John Major, a former Conservative Prime Minister (pictured in 2019, photo). This morning, Sir John Major became the latest person to criticize the government’s handling of the Owen Paterson scandal
A scandal involving Owen Paterson led to allegations of Tory corruption. Voters believe that MPs should be required to leave lucrative second jobs in Parliament. The Daily Mail poll showed.
Mr Paterson had previously been found guilty of breaking Commons rules by lobbying for two firms that paid him £500,000, and was facing a 30-day suspension from the Commons as punishment.
In an attempt to let Mr Paterson off the hook, the Government backed and won a vote on plans to tear up Parliament’s anti-sleaze rules on Wednesday.
However, the government was forced to do a humiliating Uturn the next day, despite a huge public protest and angry from Tories that had voted for the amendment.
With Mr Johnson’s support effectively withdrawn, Mr Paterson quit what he described as ‘the cruel world of politics’ on Thursday.
The JL Partners poll for the Mail shows that nearly one in three (31 per cent) believe Mr Johnson’s administration is the worst behaved in terms of corruption, dating back to Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1979.
A total of 22 per cent say Tony Blair’s government was ‘sleazy’, with 9 per cent of voters awarding the same badge of shame to David Cameron’s administration.
In today’s Mail poll, 69 per cent of voters say the Prime Minister was wrong to order Tory MPs to vote in favour of letting Mr Paterson off
By contrast, the governments of former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown and ex-Conservative PM Theresa May are seen as ‘sleazy’ by only 2 per cent of voters.
A total of 53 per cent say Mr Johnson is ‘sleazy’, but only 20 per cent place Sir Keir in the same category.
Similarly, nearly half (46 per cent) say the Conservative Party as a whole is ‘sleazy’, but only 17 per cent would apply the description to Labour.
A separate poll showed the Tories’ five-point lead over Labour a week ago has narrowed to just one point.
In today’s Mail poll, 69 per cent of voters say the Prime Minister was wrong to order Tory MPs to vote in favour of letting Mr Paterson off.
A total of 71 per cent say he should return the £500,000 he earned from his two ‘second jobs’.
Six out of ten MPs (61%) believe they should all be barred from holding second jobs, while 81% support the creation of an independent organization headed by a High court judge to handle corruption cases against them.
If Mr Paterson was correct to say that his behavior contributed to Rose’s suicide last year, 33% of respondents said so. Only 15% disagreed.
A stark warning this week by former MI5 chief Lord Evans, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, that Britain could ‘slip into becoming a corrupt country’ struck a chord with the public.
A total of 53 per cent say Mr Johnson is ‘sleazy’, but only 20 per cent place Sir Keir in the same category
In total, 57% agree with the statement and 17% disagree.
But Sir Keir and Labour appear to have gained little from accusing Mr Johnson of ‘leading his Tory troops through the sewer’ in a doomed bid to save Mr Paterson.
If asked which leader is better, 41% chose Mr Johnson. 27% selected Sir Keir.
Labour is seen to be far less divided than the Conservatives, but they are seen as being more capable than Labour.
James Johnson, of JL Partners, said: ‘People who have heard about the Paterson scandal are outraged by it, and are scathing about the way the Conservatives tried to scrap the system of dealing with complaints against MPs.
‘In the public’s eyes, this was merely to protect one of their own.’ He continued: The public – angry about this attempt to weaken Parliamentary scrutiny – want the system made much tougher.’
The pollster added: ‘So far, however, this episode has not been as damaging as [former senior No 10 aide] Dominic Cummings flouting Covid lockdown rules with his infamous trip to Barnard Castle – which felt much more personally insulting to voters.’
The survey was completed by 1,021 people in Britain, on Wednesday.