CROYDON COMMENTARY: The backlash against the Tory government’s vote to let one of their MPs escape penalties for breaking the rules over lobbying has today brought the suggestion of a U-turn. But why is it one rule for them and another rule for the rest of us, asks OLGA FITZROY
Yesterday, the Conservative government applied a three-line whip to change the parliamentary rules on transparency and corruption so that one of their MP colleagues who had broken them didn’t get punished.
This morning’s latest Westminster drama means it is still unclear whether these changes will now be implemented, but the fact remains that 244 Tory MPs, including Croydon South’s Chris Philp, Sutton and Cheam’s Paul Scully, and Carshalton and Wallington’s Elliot Colburn, all voted to abolish the independent body tasked with upholding the parliamentary standards on lobbying and corruption so that their mate could avoid a miserably short one month’s suspension.
Philp, Scully (who appears on tonight’s edition of BBC Question Time, so get the popcorn in) and Colburn have all been challenged by this website to explain why their party whip was more important to them yesterday than the right or moral thing to do. Don’t hold your breath…
Of the Tory MPs who voted for this amendment, 22 of them had themselves been subject to an investigation by the parliamentary standards body, so were clearly champing at the bit to “reform” it so that they might carry on unencumbered. These included the likes of Iain Duncan-Smith, Peter Bone and Mark Francois, as well as Beckenham MP Bob Stewart.
I’m struggling to find a relatable comparison to the level of sleaze we’re encountering here. Perhaps Robert Mugabe miraculously “winning” the jackpot in the Zimbabwean national lottery in 2000 is the most apt.
The latest parliamentary sleaze row surrounds Tory MP Owen Paterson who, it seems, shares the late kleptocratic dictator’s penchant for topping up his earnings from other sources. In Paterson’s case, to the tune of £100,000 from lobbying firms.
While this might sound like another Westminster episode that has little to do with the real world, it matters.
Ordinary people who receive public funds, whether as wages or benefits, are subject to employment contracts or to very strict rules, even if some of these seem irrational or inhumane. In fact, in some cases this government is spending thousands of taxpayers pounds to fight court cases to enforce some of the more irrational rules.
Take for example, Nicola Salvato.
Salvato is a single mother on Universal Credit who argued that she shouldn’t be forced to front up the money for the childcare to which her family is entitled to and then have to claim it back from the DWP many weeks later.
A reasonable ask, you might think, but one this government is fighting all the way to the Supreme Court.
People claiming Jobseekers Allowance are regularly sanctioned for breaking the terms of their “Jobseekers Agreement” – with their benefits, often their only source of income, stopped for weeks for lateness or missed appointments.
Ask any self-employed mother on Maternity Allowance trying to get by on £150 a week while attempting to keep her business afloat. Mothers on Maternity Allowance are banned from working in their own business while claiming the benefit, meaning that many women’s businesses are mothballed, often never to recover.
The arguments I’ve heard from ministers and officials for many of these irrational rules over relatively small sums of money (compared to the lobbying cash that Paterson has been trousering) range from “we don’t want the system to be abused” to “well it’s maternity pay, so the mother shouldn’t be working at the same time”.
Basically, we’re worried about dishonesty, and you should only have one job at a time.
Which brings me back to Owen Paterson.
He already has one job, arguably one of the most important in any democracy, representing the 35,444 people in North Shropshire that voted for him (as well as the c50,000 who didn’t).
While, amazingly, there is no cap on second-job earnings for MPs, there are rules around what you can do to supplement your £82,000 a year parliamentary salary, and what you must disclose. Paterson broke the rules all MPs must abide by, and, a bit like the kleptocratic dictator, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cronies stepped in to change them to try to avoid the consequences.
As of this morning, Jacob Rees-Mogg, as the Leader of the House, has ruled that the change they all debased themselves to vote for will now not be used to exonerate their beleaguered colleague. While angry front-page headlines and emails from constituents might be just about enough to force a U-turn, it was this government’s belief that they are above the rules that lead to their idiotic decision in the first place.
While many of us made unbearable sacrifices during the pandemic to keep others safe, this government treated us with utter contempt by trying to wriggle out of rules of their own making at every opportunity.
Dom’s trip to Barnard Castle, Johnson’s bogus “pilot scheme” to avoid isolating, or Matt “Hands-Face-MyPlace” Hancock’s office affair that definitely broke social distancing all show that for this government, and their friends, rules are nothing more than a minor inconvenience, to be ignored at will.
When Boris Johnson bends over backwards to rewrite the rules for an MP that has broken them, it sends a very clear message.
Rules are for other people.
- Olga FitzRoy (pictured right) is an award-winning music producer and business owner, and a women’s rights campaigner who was the Labour Party candidate for Croydon South in the 2019 General Election
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