It’s brown envelope time again at the Conservative Party

Stephen Barclay, minister for the Cabinet Office (and apparently acting prime minister) has this evening apologised for the government’s mistake in ‘conflating’ its genuine concerns about the standards investigations system (namely, that the Commons Standards Committee had embarrassed the government by finding Owen Patterson guilty of lobbying ministers on behalf of companies for which he was a paid consultant) with Patterson’s specific case (namely, that Owen Patterson had been lobbying ministers on behalf of companies for which he was a paid consultant).

The Environment Secretary, George Eustice, suggested yesterday that the affair was ‘a storm in a teacup’. Last week, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng called in question the position of standards commissioner Kathryn Stone, whose report had found Paterson guilty of repeatedly breaching Commons rules banning paid advocacy. Boris Johnson thinks it all so trivial that he cannot even be bothered to face the House.

But for the rest of us, the issue is not difficult.

The dictionary definitions of bribery and corruption are easy enough to understand. A bribe is money or favour given or promised to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust. The acceptance of bribes is corruption, and it breaches that trust. So, when members of parliament, who are elected to represent the interests of their constituents, accept money in return for trying to influence the decisions of ministers, who have been entrusted to govern in the national interest, what is going on is bribery and corruption.

Conservative MPs are reportedly livid because they were ordered to vote to reform the standards system (so that Owen Patterson might get off), despite their misgivings, only for the government to retreat when confronted with the inevitable wider outrage. Robert Halfon complained that party troops ‘cannot just be cannon fodder’. Tobias Ellwood complained that the prime minister needed to find his ‘moral compass’. But the notion that Conservative MPs might exercise their own moral compass on behalf of their constituents did not seem to occur.

As for Boris Johnson, he has many qualities: high intelligence, charisma, and wit, for example. But he also has the classic Etonian sense of entitlement, that, like Cameron before him, he was destined to be prime minister. He believes he has the supremely aristocratic leisured cosmopolitan quality the Greeks called megalopsychia, or greatness of soul. Perhaps he has. Apparently, he does not bear grudges. And this absolves him from the petty Christian virtues of ‘patience and pusillanimity’, of ‘abstinence and charity’ (I am quoting from his Dream of Rome), and from those petty local loyalties and attachments that beset the rest of us – to our families, our friends, and our communities. In other words, he has no moral compass, no integrity, whatever.

But did we not all know this when we elected him ?

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8 Comments on It’s brown envelope time again at the Conservative Party

  1. To explain the behaviour of Boris Johnson, I suggest adding these points:

    1. As many who have had close contact with say:

    It appears that many of Johnson’s ideas/edicts -eg on the “save the climate” idiocy- are the result of the influence of his current wife, who is one of the various woke types that now people the Conservative Party.

    2. Unlike, say, Churchill who had the advantage that most of the British people were keen to defeat the then foreign enemies, Johnson must contend with nominally “British”/”English” peoples who, in their majority, quite welcome both foreign and home-grown enemies-

    -at least partly because fighting is so icky-yucky, wouldn’t you agree-

    -and/or are too deluded/stupid to realise that these enemies now control the heights and the bowels of all our institutions.

  2. I recently listed here some modern critics of our parliamentary system; I nearly added David Runciman, but providence luckily prevented me – in view of his “Guardian” article arguing for the electoral franchise to be lowered to six year-olds; a reductio ad absurdum – Government as Santa – from each according to her/his/their inability, to each according to their/his/her/its greed. I should have added George Walden instead and possibly Ivo Mosley who echoes his grandfather’s ideas on credit control and cultural decadence while making up silly stories about him.

  3. He was elected because he was the Tory leader and the alternative of voting for other than a Tory at the General Election was not an option when you consider the alternatives. Nevertheless, what we knew or thought we new about Johnson was as nothing compared to how he has turned out. I just didn’t think he was the cowardly fraudster he obviously is. I am naive of course. Most politicians are liars. Why would I have wanted to vote for any of them is beyond me now. It’s over. What is taking place could have been halted if those who we thought were more or less on our side have betrayed us. How little we knew.

  4. Owen Patterson has been denied the right to appeal that is offered to every knife-wielding thug. This is wrong.

    I’m not a fan of the Conservative Party or of Owen Patterson, but it seems clear to me that the current Parliamentary Standards system is broken and needs to be reformed.

    The government, evil though it is in general, is in this case guilty of clumsiness, not of sleaze.

    As for Boris, he exhibits the same mixture of idealism and corruption that has been a feature of all democratic politicians from Themistocles onwards. Unless a better alternative than Starmer emerges and shows signs of being capable of winning an election, Boris remains our best hope as long as we retain hope in democracy.

  5. Boris’ response was a stupid disgrace, no doubt about that. Loyalty to colleagues is commendable but there’s more than one way of being loyal. Patterson should have apologised profusely to the House (or been made to) for failing to declare an interest at the point where it mattered. If he had done, he may even have been excused by the electorate if not the House.

    The wider issue of paying for parties and politics – donations for election campaigns as well as ‘consultancies’ or lawyers who continue to practice – will remain contentious because political careers are more of a gamble than most.

  6. And who has ideas about effective methods by which engaged, tough, contributing citizens can better supervise the activities of elected political representatives?

    This matter is, erm, urgent in addition to being important.