Boris Johnson is a sensitive person who resents unjustified criticism. This page will not contain any of that.
It is not easy to understand why the Prime Minster acted as he did today.
It was because of him that MPs voted to block the suspension of Tory MP and former Cabinet Minister Owen Paterson from the House of Commons, and to overhaul Parliament’s disciplinary processes.
If Labour had not been so lazy and had put together a plan, it could have defeated Government. A large number of Conservative MPs voted against or abstained.
MPs voted to approve an amendment to reform the standards process of the House of Commons after Tory MP Owen Paterson was found to have broken lobbying rules
“The accusation is that Johnson is willing to re-write regulations to protect one his mates.”
In fact, when he hastily and rashly raised his standard in Mr Paterson’s cause – after all the fatigue and exertions of Cop26 in Glasgow – the PM can’t have known that Labour would mount such a feeble opposition.
The vote was an unnecessary gamble. As a result of Mr Paterson’s reprieve, and the tearing up of existing rules, there are now renewed cries of ‘Tory sleaze’. These are a conviction that may reverberate beyond Westminster.
Johnson is accused of attempting to rewrite regulations in order to protect his mate.
This isn’t the first time that he has shown special favour to a cherished colleague in spite of the rules. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary of India, was found guilty of serious breaches of the ministerial code almost exactly one year ago.
A report by the government stated that she had bullied her underlings. After Dominic Cummings, her former chief adviser, was thoroughly exposed as a breaker of the lockdown rules that he had helped to create, Mr Johnson accepted it.
Six months later Mr Cummings was deemed a threat by the PM and summarily removed.
Why did Boris rip up the rulebook in order to suit Mr Paterson The two men aren’t particularly close, though they both manned the same barricades during the 2016 Referendum campaign, and may have bonded over Brexit.
One possibility is that although he can behave ruthlessly towards those who cross him – viz Mr Cummings – the Prime Minister is essentially a soft-hearted soul.
He likely felt that Paterson was being unfairly treated.
He may well have been moved to sympathy because Owen Paterson’s wife, Rose, killed herself in June last year. According to Mr Paterson’s recent assertion, the protracted investigation into his alleged lobbying activities was ‘a major contributory factor’ in her suicide.
Boris is a kind person. It seems like he sympathized with Mr Paterson’s grief and predicament.
However, it is often dangerous for a leader not to follow his heart more than his head.
Although I believe that Mr Paterson is probably a pretty decent sort of fellow, I’m sure that the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Stone, was right to accuse him of ‘an egregious case of paid advocacy’ on behalf of two companies which together paid him over £100,000 a year.
His defenders in Parliament, the Press and Mr Paterson insist that he was justified lobbying (which MPs generally are not supposed to do) because it was drawing attention on various health risks, such as the presence antibiotic residues in milk sold in supermarkets. Such action does him credit.
Paterson lobbied for more disinterested causes on several occasions. For example, he sought to have the rivals of one of the two companies he worked for re-label their products so as not to compete.
In defiance of regulations, he also held business meetings at Parliament on other occasions. He claimed that he was required to be present in the Commons to vote on crucial issues.
Ms Stone however found that meetings were held even though no vote was imminent. Many will claim that this is a hanging offence. Mr. Paterson is a good man. He simply bent the rules in order to please his generous employers.
Instead of protesting loudly enough to be denied natural justice, he should take his punishment as other miscreant MPs in both main parties did before him.
It is very hard to take issue with the cross-party Commons Standards Committee which unanimously agreed with Ms Stone that Mr Paterson had broken the MPs’ Code of Conduct. The breach was acknowledged in part by three Tories who were members of the committee.
North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson was found to have broken lobbying rules by advocating in Parliament for two companies who paid him more than £100,000 a year
Yet the world would barely have noticed if he had quietly paid his penalty for lobbying on behalf of the two companies – a 30-day suspension from the Commons, and the possibility of a by-election in his North Shropshire constituency.
As it is, his refusal to accept his lot, coupled with Boris’s dramatic dash to his aid, have exposed the Tories to familiar, damaging accusations.
I don’t of course suggest that the Prime Minister was motivated solely by feelings of solidarity with Mr Paterson. It is possible that he has some issues with Ms Stone.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has found Mr Johnson guilty of breaching the MPs’ Code of Conduct on three occasions since 2018, though in every instance, unlike Mr Paterson’s case, her decision was overturned by the Standards Committee.
It was Ms Stone who launched an investigation into the funding of Boris’s 2019 holiday with Carrie in Mustique. I am certain he has not forgotten nor forgave that.
Some Conservatives may be right to suggest that Ms Stone is a shrewd and tolerant woman. Between 2020 and 2021 she launched investigations into the alleged wrongdoings of 13 Tories, compared with five Labour MPs.
New Labour, on the other hand, felt similarly manipulated by Elizabeth Filkin, the former Parliamentary Commissioner who harassed several of its top leaders. In 2001, she resigned after accusing ministers of running a whispering campaign against herself. Plus ca change.
Whatever the argument for reforming the present rules – and those accused should probably have a greater right of appeal than they do now – the solution is not to spare Mr Paterson from the punishment meted out by a system which this Government has hitherto tolerated.
In the middle of a match, neither the rules nor the referees should be changed.
Boris Johnson, a new referee has walked on the pitch to replace the previous referee. He declared that a foul-playing player should be reinstated.
Perhaps Mr Paterson is so obscure and the facts are so hard to understand that the Tories will not suffer any damage.
I think it’s more likely that yesterday’s ill-conceived vote will turn out to be an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound.
Boris Johnson probably didn’t act for bad reasons. He may have been motivated by positive reasons. He just didn’t think things through.
The danger is that more people will believe he doesn’t know right from wrong, and that this is an overmighty Government which is happy to twist the rules to suit its own interests.