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 ?