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Is sleaze scandal a storm in a tea cup?

Labour hopes that accusations of corruption will stick to Conservative government

By Ricky Browne

The opposition Labour party and much of the media has been getting very excited over what it is referring to as a new sleaze scandal from Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party government.

A Conservative MP – Owen Paterson — resigned, over implications that he was behaving in a corrupt manner by being employed as a kind of lobbyist for some private companies, and perhaps pushing their position within the government. Such action is against the Parliamentary rules.

Owen Paterson in Parliament

The Conservatives wanted to change the rules on how such behaviour is treated, which might not have been a completely bad idea, except that they wanted to allow this MP to benefit from the new rules, and to prevent him from being suspended from Parliament.

But that idea floated like a lead balloon. Opposition, smelling red meat, were of course completely against the idea – a safe position for them to currently take, given that there are few  if any MPs who can currently hold lobbyist positions – given that they are not in government.  

But the idea was also resented by several backbenchers, including those who have recently won previously safe Labour seats in the North, who don’t want the idea of sleaze to jeopardize their  chances of winning re-election.

Opposition Leader Keir Starmer demanded that Johnson should be in Parliament

So, even though the MP in question resigned, and the government backed away from trying to introduce changes — Opposition Leader Keir Starmer demanded that Prime Minister Boris Johnson come to parliament to explain himself or to give an apology.

Johnson did not go to parliament yesterday – which has given rise to some charges of him being cowardly.

Starmer himself said that Johnson was leading his party through the gutter, or at other times, the sewer – bringing the UK’s government into disrepute and feeding corruption.

Is this a storm in a tea cup? Photo: iStock

But its all a storm in a tea cup. There are many bigger things happening right now – the COP26 climate conference happening right now in Glasgow being one of them. The position of Northern Ireland and trade with the EU. The argument with France over fishing rights. The increase in illegal immigration. The recovery from Covid-19. The recovery of the economy. Getting Brexit to work better. Etc. Etc.

The idea that this Conservative government would be brought down by charges of corruption – which worked out as a great strategy to defeat the John Major government in the early 1990s – is driving much of the interest.

John Major is pointing fingers

John Major himself, who is not a great admirer of Boris Johnson, has come out and said that the action was corrupt. You’d think he’d want to avoid making such suggestions as they might reflect on him and his legacy in a less than positive manner.

Unfortunately for Labour, this accusation of sleaze is unlikely to stick — even with Major’s support — and will be all but forgotten by the time of the next election.

It could be good practice for Starmer to go on the attack and for some of his team to follow suit.

But its unlikely to excite the electorate in any way. – except maybe for those that are political junkies.  Those who hate the Conservatives will continue to hate them, and will look at this episode as yet another reason why Johnson should be removed from power.

COP26 may be of more importance

Other voters are likely to put much greater importance on the bigger picture and how it affects their lives. How is the economy doing. Is Covid now under control? How is the NHS coping? How is Brexit performing? How is unemployment? Is enough being done to reach Net Zero on the climate?

What happened to an MP from Shropshire, who few people can even remember the name of will have zero impact.

Unless, of course, the Conservatives in their efforts to protect their own, continue to make negative headlines. And its already suffered from a few of those – with the Downing Street refurbishment, a holiday for Boris in Spain, and the suggestion that it is giving donors seats in the House of Lords.

So, the Conservatives will have to try and put a lid on these continuous accusations of corruption, if they aren’t to risk – if not losing the next election – losing a greater number of seats than they would like.

There will be an attempt to give this story legs by both the Opposition and the media, looking for other examples of MPs – especially Conservative ones – who have a profitable side line to boost their MP salary of just over £80,000.

Geoffrey Cox is not in the cross hairs

Already, the focus has turned onto another Conservative MP, Geoffrey Cox, who is said to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds working as a lawyer, and advising the British Virgin Islands. It has been reported that he made as much as £970,000 in his secondary job last year.

Meanwhile, Labour needs to keep a lid on trying to paint the Conservatives and all those who support them as beneath contempt.  Calling the Conservatives, Etonians and Conservative supporters scum – is not a good way to win back Labour votes that they lost in the last election.

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