Owen Peterson. Owen Peterson. Source: CLA Midlands - Flickr / Wikicommons / cropped from original / shared under licence CC2.0 / linked below

The Paterson scandal is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overt corruption of Johnson’s government, writes John Westmoreland

Boris Johnson sits atop a government riddled with corruption. The row about disgraced MP Owen Paterson is indicative of a much more damning catalogue of sleaze and dishonesty that runs from Downing Street to the Tory shires. 

The backlash against Boris Johnson’s attempt to save the skin of a corrupt Tory MP has forced him into another humiliating retreat. On Wednesday Tory MPs were whipped to support an amendment to the recommendations of the parliamentary standards committee that Paterson be suspended for thirty days for breaching the rules on lobbying. 

Many Tories abstained, so obvious was Johnson’s attempt to bend the rules for one of his own. The only way the standards committee could be overruled was on the grounds of natural justice. And so we witnessed the outrage and absurdity of the Prime Minister calling for the overthrow of the standards committee, and for Paterson’s case to be considered retrospectively by a new Tory dominated committee. 

The media storm that followed has knocked the Tories back. Virtually everyone in the country saw Johnson and the Tories leading an attack on the standards that the public expect from politicians, and bending the rules to suit them.

Yesterday afternoon after a non-stop media onslaught Johnson gave up offering the excuse that he now needed cross-party consent to change the rules. Paterson has now resigned but massive damage has been done to Johnson and his backers.

We might ask why Johnson wanted to gamble his already battered reputation on something as risky as overturning the parliamentary standards committee.

Smoke and mirrors

Paterson was found guilty of breaking the rules by “acting as a paid advocate” for two companies – Randox Laboratories and Lynn’s Country Foods. This has provided him with a nice little earner of £100,000 a year on top of his pay as a MP. His behaviour was described as “egregious” by parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone.

But Paterson only faced a thirty-day suspension, hardly a fatal blow to his career. Any other public servant would have faced outright dismissal. Indeed, the standards committee offered their sympathies to him because of the suicide of his wife Rose last year, and expressed regret that their investigation was necessary. So why did Johnson risk so much over so little?

It is increasingly obvious that the whole exercise has been about defecting the media from the trail of corruption that has led to Paterson. This is clearly what Kwasi Kwarteng was up to when he told Sky News yesterday that commissioner Stone, rather than Johnson, would “have to consider her position,” as if she was culpable for having the audacity to investigate Paterson by following the procedure laid down by parliament! 

Deflection indeed, but all the perfumes of Arabia won’t overcome the stench of corruption lingering around the Tories in Westminster.

Johnson is clearly terrified, as his former fixer turned enemy Dominic Cummings alleges, that the committee for standards will now turn their attention to outstanding cases of alleged corruption involving Johnson himself. Of particular interest will be who it was that paid for the refurbishment of Johnson’s Downing Street flat.

However, this latest outrage is just the tip of the iceberg. David Cameron’s “stalking” of government ministers on behalf of Greensill Capital as well as the £billions handed out to Tory backers during the pandemic all tell of a system of government that is rotten to the core, and as many commentators are saying, “not fit for purpose”.

The whole Tory set-up relays on allowing their backers to buy influence. Ben Elliot, the co-Chair of the Conservative Party, was appointed to enable access to a wide network of the super-rich. Elliot is the nephew of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and wife of Prince Charles. He is another Eton educated chiseller whose company, Quintessentially, is a luxury concierge service that caters to the wealthy, aiming to fulfill “every request — however big or small” and promising members the best seats at restaurants, cultural events and V.I.P. experiences.

Elliot gets paid for connecting the super-rich to the Conservative Party’s mission. Last month, The Financial Times reported that Elliot had introduced a similar model to the Conservative Party’s fund-raising mechanism through an “advisory board”, a group of elite donors whose contributions are rewarded with access to the most powerful people in government.

Corruption is built into the Tory political/business model. Paterson will not be the last of it by any stretch of the imagination. Paid holidays for politicians in return for the awarding of lucrative contracts is the bread and butter of this lousy government. At the moment they are in the gutter where they belong and we need to kick the crap out of them while they are down.

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John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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