Dawn Butler speaking at the 2020 Labour Party deputy leadership election hustings in Bristol. Dawn Butler speaking at the 2020 Labour Party deputy leadership election hustings in Bristol. Photo: Rwendland/ Wikicommons / cropped from original / CC BY-SA 4.0 / license linked at bottom of article

Instead of punishing Dawn Butler for her honesty, Boris Johnson should be held to account for his lies, argues Caitlin Southern

Labour MP Dawn Butler’s dismissal from the Parliamentary chamber for refusing to retract her remarks – that the Prime Minister has consistently lied to both Parliament and the nation – should come as no surprise. That breaking the parliamentary code of civility is viewed more harshly than lying is emblematic of the entrenched privilege that Westminster represents.

There is no censure for voting through truly abhorrent measures that allow children to starve or that criminalise saving lives at sea but there are robust measures in place to ensure that personal offence does not occur. 

Dawn Butler is stating what many of us already know, that Boris Johnson is a liar. He has falsely claimed that his government reinstated the training bursary for nurses, when they have in fact replaced it with a maintenance grant that leaves newly qualified nurses with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt.

He stated in the House of Commons that functioning Covid-19 track and trace apps did not exist when they were being widely used across Europe and the rest of the world. He has even claimed that the Tories gave the NHS a cash boost of £34 billion rather than the actual figure of £20.5 billion, which is less than the budget rise under the last Labour government.

In publicly calling the Prime Minister a liar and standing by her remarks, Dawn Butler has shown a preparedness to take the government to task which is damningly lacking in too much of the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party, particularly Starmer’s leadership. The official Opposition has consistently failed to hold the government to account despite the litany of horrors that they have unleashed since taking power.

The complicity of the majority of Labour MPs, who have not done nearly enough to challenge Johnson and his disgraceful government, speaks to the rot at the heart of the establishment, where following procedure is more important than speaking truth to power.

It falls to individual MPs to highlight the blatant lies that the government, and much of the media, seems determined to sweep under the carpet. The actions of this shambolic, malicious government should be an open goal for any journalist worth their salt, but, with the vast majority of UK media outlets having been concentrated into the hands of a few pro-Tory owners, it has become the duty of MPs to break established parliamentary procedures in order for the truth to be heard.

Much of the media backlash over this incident will likely not be directed at Johnson for his lies and behaviour, but at Butler for daring to raise the issue. 

One method to determine whether Johnson has lied to Parliament would be for him to convene an independent inquiry into his conduct in office and his handling of the pandemic. If he genuinely believes that he has not acted inappropriately then such an inquiry is no threat to him or his government.

It is not too much to ask that the leader of the land be expected to explain their behaviour when it has been suggested that impropriety has occurred, but it is unlikely in the extreme that Boris Johnson will submit to or cooperate with such an inquiry. 

Dawn Butler should not have been dismissed from the Commons for refusing to retract her remarks, Boris Johnson should have been summoned to explain himself and outline what he will do to make amends. That this has not happened merely demonstrates that the Houses of Parliament do not act as a counterweight to governmental excesses, but in fact exist to further entrench them and ensure that the vast gulf between the government and the governed remains unbridged.

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