Johnson sucked into a black hole after Paterson resigns

You can’t lose more credibility than this. Boris Johnson, distracted no doubt by glad handing world leaders at COP26 and his slap up dining with Telegraph grandees at the Garrick, arrived back at No 10 to find that he was swirling towards the black hole of political failure. His attempt to protect North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson from allegations of lobbying on behalf of his food industry paymasters failed. Big time.

Jacob Rees Mogg yesterday cancelled the review of loyal Tory MPs had voted for just hours before. Paterson, back on the hook and facing suspension, resigned.

Dominic Cummings once described Boris Johnson as “a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”. It is a cruel irony that Owen Paterson was shopping in a supermarket when he learnt that the wheels had come off his political career.

Boris Johnson, who had hoped that COP26 would be his finest hour, has perhaps made the biggest mistake of his political career and even his fellow Tories are raging.

Johnson left it to Jacob Rees Mogg to smooth out the problems he had created by imposing a three-line whip on MPs to rescue. That rescue failed. Paterson resigned yesterday, or more technically will take up the position of steward of the Chiltern Hundreds or the of the Manor of Northstead, a procedure that is quaint and outdated as perhaps are the standards procedures in the Commons.

Rees Mogg was forced to address the Commons after a major backlash in yesterday morning’s media, including in the right leaning press. Wendy Chamberlain, Lib Dem MP for North East Fife, also secured an emergency debate which will be held next Monday.

Before the U-turn, many Tory MPs took to the airways to justify their vote in favour of the Andrea Leadsom amendment. One was my local MP, Philip Dunne, who condescendingly told our local radio station that people didn’t understand what the issues were (02:09). Admitting that the vote “looks bad”, he insisted the debacle should not undermine public confidence in MPs. Dunne could be right because public trust in politicians telling the truth was just 15% in 2020 according to Ipsos Mori. Doctors and nurses are in contrast score above 90%. When you are nearly at rock bottom in public trust, there is almost nowhere to fall.

Dunne and other MPs were rapidly over taken by events yesterday. Jacob Rees Mogg told the Commons:

I am aware that last night’s vote has created a certain amount of controversy. It is important that standards in this House are done on a cross-party basis… Change would need to be supported on a cross-party basis, and that is clearly not the case… I fear last night’s debate conflated the individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken. Therefore, I and others will look to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases.

Rees Mogg asserted that the view of the house was that any changes should not be applied retrospectively. That meant that Owen Paterson was not off the hook and would face another Commons vote on suspension, one the government would not dare to whip after Wednesday’s debacle.

Paterson was not told Boris Johnson was ditch both him and the review before Rees-Mogg’s announcement. The BBC says he was shopping in a supermarket when a journalist broke the news, though the Telegraph suggests a call from the Tory Whip, Mark Spencer, alerted him. He quickly resigned.

 

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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22 Comments

  • John Marriott 5th Nov '21 - 10:14am

    The Tory party has always been a ‘conservative’ party par excellence. Many citizens seem to have baked into their DNA the desire to ‘conserve’ what they have. Over the decades the Tories have milked that for all it’s worth. Perhaps some may be old enough to remember that 1959 GE slogan, “Life is better under the Conservatives. Don’t let Labour ruin it”.

    From 2013 to 2017 I had the opportunity to see the Tory caucus at County Council level operate at first hand. As part of the ruling coalition we four Lib Dems and three Independents were able to attend group meetings and hold responsible offices. We were even invited to attend a Tory group Christmas dinner (and we did).

    What I noticed was how ruthless some Tory councillors were in clinging on to power. At group meetings, despite our presence, individuals were not afraid to, as they say, ‘let it all hang out’. The question was always “Are there any votes in it for us?” The irony was that the Tory has always run and probably will run large around here; but despite that some Tories still treated the area as a marginal. I’m sure that other parties behave similarly. However, despite disagreements in private, for Tories, that’s usually where those disagreements stay. Call it hubris or chutzpah if you like. I would prefer to call it “power, whatever it takes”.

  • Jayne mansfield 5th Nov '21 - 10:31am

    I understand from newspaper reports that there may be discussions between parties to put forward anti-sleaze candidate. I hope that this is the case as it seems that the constituency has had a large conservative majority.

    It is clear to many of us who have worked in corrupt regimes where contracts are handed out to family and friends that this current Conservative government needs to be held to account. The problem with corruption that becomes normalised. For example, in my experience working in such places, the corruption seeps to every level of society. It becomes a way of supplementing income one is entitled to from non -corrupt means.

    One of the worst comments I hear or read, is that ‘they are all the same’ when referring to politicians. I disagree. I believe that there are still some honourable individuals who despite differences in politics, believe that politics is a way of improving the lives of others. The abuse they tolerate in order to to do this is disgraceful.

    However, the fact that there have been attempts to challenge this politician’s suspension from Parliament and the attempted removal of a watchdog , has raised more questions about the behaviour of MPs and whether more have something to fear. . The smell has become even more rancid.

  • Barry Lofty 5th Nov '21 - 11:13am

    The upcoming by election will be a chance for the electorate to show their disapproval of the way some of our politicians have and are behaving and using their favoured positions to feather their own nests, I just hope they take that chance, we desperately need a change of direction in the country.

  • nvelope2003 5th Nov '21 - 11:26am

    Politicians, and particularly members of both houses of Parliament, would earn more respect if they were subject to the same laws as the people. The special rules they have made for themselves should no more be allowed to protect them from the law of the land than rules made by other bodies to deal with internal matters. I am aware that some of the historic rules were intended to protect individual MPs and peers from the might of the executive but they now seem to protect them from the laws which apply to everyone else. The system is overdue for root and branch reform.

  • Paul Holmes 5th Nov '21 - 12:07pm

    @Jayne Mansfield. The Guardian this morning reports that Labour have already rejected the idea and WILL be standing a Lab candidate. Of course their rules do say they MUST stand a candidate everywhere. As with their Conference rejecting PR their actions make ideas of a ‘Progressive Alliance’ fall at the first hurdle.

    @envelope 2003. Actually of course, you, I and almost the entire population of the UK can act as paid lobbyists. The point of the Paterson case was that he repeatedly broke the special rules that apply (quite rightly) to Parliamentarians as regards paid lobbying. So in fact, far from MP’s being exempt from the laws affecting ‘the people’ this case is all about extra restrictions that apply to MP’s and not to ‘the people’.

  • Russell Simpson 5th Nov '21 - 12:09pm

    Labour have announced that they will be contesting the by election. I think this is unfortunate. This was a rare opportunity (given the sleaze allegations) for opposition parties to “see what happens” when they join forces. I hope it wasn’t the Libdems who said “No”. In addition, the small chance of the tories losing a seat has also probably disappeared.

  • Nadhim Zahawi was wheeled out today to suggest that “errors were made over the Owen Paterson affair”
    There was no error; it was a deliberate, calculated attempt to trash the rules.. Labour and the SNP’s refusal to take part in any Tory loaded committee (and a media outcry from even the Daily Mail) left them with no option but to u-turn..

    Yesterday Rees-Mogg’s attempt to rewrite the debacle (a debacle in which he played a major part) was disgusting..Any normal human would have been curled up with humiliating embarassment; but Eton teaches neither..

    As for media coverage; almost all networks except the BBC have continued to lead with this story..The BBC’s flagship 6pm news, disgracefully, downgraded the most important fiasco and u-turn this year in favour of a ‘shock, horror’ headline about a necropheliac (shocking but hardly of the same national importance). The news editor responsible should be ashamed ..

    As for the future.. I’m sure that Frost can be relied upon to come up with a distraction….
    “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” [Hermann Goering]

  • Jason Connor 5th Nov '21 - 12:56pm

    I think it’s better the Lib Dems contest it. I don’t always think a one issue anti-sleaze candidate is such a good idea maybe Martin Bell was an exception. Now the parties can spell out how they will deal with sleaze as part of their campaign amongst a host of other issues. It was fairly obvious labour would stand, as they also sniff a chance of power and are already saying they are the only alternative which of course they are not. But it depends who the Conservatives select here with such a huge majority.

  • Barry Lofty 5th Nov '21 - 1:05pm

    [email protected] I like your Hermann Goering quote the Nazi’s were masters at manipulating the masses! By the way I think the Lib Dems also refused to serve in the ” Tory loaded committee “.

  • Jayne mansfield 5th Nov '21 - 1:23pm

    @ Paul Holmes,
    If the Labour party rules say they must stand a candidate, it is now up to we voters to show our disgust.at the way this this government’s is undermining our democracy , whether it be proroguing parliament the handing out million pound contracts to companies like Randox without other companies being given the opportunity to bid for the work. ( The Guardian).

    If other parties do not have the same rule as Labour, might it be possible for these, e.g. Greens , Lib Dems, to support a joint anti-sleaze candidate.? I have never known such anger amongst dyed in the wool Conservative supporters of my acquaintance who are arguing for an anti-sleaze candidate in preference to a candidate from a different political party.

    If it has any sense, the Labour Party might consider ways of standing in according to its rules, whilst at the same time supporting an anti-sleaze candidate,

    The people of this country might not be interested in the nitty gritty of politics, but they know what corruption is, and they don’t like it. This is an opportunity to expose it. before it becomes endemic.

    Quite frankly, if parties split the anti- tory vote on this, it will be unforgivable. A functioning democracy is dependent upon the trust of the population. Any previous sense of powerlessness because of the Tory majority, must end. Voting for an independent anti-sleaze candidate hands back some measure of power to the people.. Corruption is not a victimless crime, it is not just about an individual politician feathering his/her own nest..

    Is Martin Bell still wandering around in his white jacket?

  • Russell Simpson 5th Nov '21 - 1:48pm

    If Labour think they can win this seat they are deluded. They’e thrown away the only chance of the tories losing. Clearly Libdems should now contest. There would be no reason not to.

  • Nigel Jones 5th Nov '21 - 2:37pm

    @Jason Connor; I think you are right for Lib-Dems to stand; Martin Bell sent a good message about anti-sleaze, but I am not sure what he achieved as an MP. He said publicly in talks around the country after he retired, that he was uncomfortable with the culture in Parliament and its emphasis on personalities and who could push through what, rather than focussing on the needs of the country. Was his election able to bring about reduction in sleaze ?
    BUT, I hope the anti-Tory candidates can talk to each other and publicly agree on the key issues facing us, including the nationwide right wing movement trying to quash proper debate; then each can say what they would do about all the issues. We seem to be still in the traditional mode of fighting each other when I think many of the public want more cooperation from our politicians.

  • nvelope2003 5th Nov '21 - 3:52pm

    Paul Holmes: You are quite right although some people because of their current or past employment or status are not allowed to do certain things. How many people who have been found to have committed an unlawful act because of their status would be able to have the Prime Minister order his supporters, who form the majority in the House of Commons, to vote in favour of changing the rules in such a way that they would not be given a very mild punishment for breaking them. To be fair some people have had their punishment cancelled or reduced retrospectively because the law that provided for it had been repealed or amended. I understand some murderers were not hanged after the death penalty was abolished, although it had not been abolished when they committed their crime, because of the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of mercy on the advice of the then Home Secretary.

    The BBC did display a different attitude to Owen Patterson in that they showed some of his constituents backing him and praising him as an MP while Sky showed another view but one Labour supporter expressed a more charitable view towards him.

  • @ Russell Simpson The latest opinion poll by Yougov is informative. The whole of UK, 3-4 November, Cop 26 and Climate Change, as well as Patterson, in the news.

    Con 36%,
    Lab 35%
    Green 9%
    Lib Dem 8%
    SNP (over whole of UK) 5%.

    Patterson, of course, is not the only ex-Cabinet Minister who, when still in parliament, received large amounts of money for a few hours well paid work as a ‘consultant’.

  • John Marriott 5th Nov '21 - 4:27pm

    @David Raw
    When it comes to by-elections, national opinion polls often go out the window. Since he first won the seat in 1997 Mr Paterson gradually increased his majority. Last time he got 62% of the vote. Given this fact it will be extremely difficult not to see a Tory candidate returned again. Labour will not do deals so it’s up to the Lib Dems to do what they do well. Who knows? Is this latest attempt to cover up sleaze the final straw that broke the camel’s back? If the opposition vote splits there really is only one winner.

  • Jason Connor 5th Nov '21 - 4:35pm

    I don’t really understand how a single anti-sleaze candidate is going to address all the other issues people care about in their daily lives – energy bills soaring, household living standards, crime, health and social care/NHS, the environment etc. In fact the conservatives are increasing taxation to spend on public services and I don’t think it’s right to stereotype all conservative MPs as mired in sleaze, there was a group who voted against axing the standards committee. I agree with Nigel on Martin Bell a nice individual guy but it needs a party with representation or all parties with representation to do something about it. Labour are entitled to stand but I heard their spokesperson saying they are the only alternative in this by-election which annoyed me more and convinced me the other parties particularly the Lib Dems should stand. The attempt to stand pro EU unity candidates against the Brexit Brigade didn’t really work at the last election.

  • If Labour offered a deal would this party accept?

    From previous LDV articles unless my memory is faulty and, at my age that may well be the case, a majority LDV view is against such pacts/deals/agreements..

  • Christopher Moore 5th Nov '21 - 8:53pm

    Labour have ruled out a deal.

    No more to be said.

  • Christopher Moore 5th Nov ’21 – 8:53pm………………..Labour have ruled out a deal….
    No more to be said………….

    Hmmmmm?
    Andy Boddington’s updated thread states………The potential Labour candidate for the by-election, Graham Curry, told BBC Radio Shropshire this morning he’d love to stand as the unity candidate but would stand aside for another if that was the Labour position. Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scotland secretary, told Times Radio earlier today: “At the moment, the Labour Party will be running in this by-election.”

    Duncan Kerr, hoping to be the Green candidate, also suggested that he would stand aside in a similar situation.

    The Lib Dems have yet to declare a position but I am expecting us to field a candidate.

    (Since drafting this article, ‘THE LIBDEMS HAVE COFIRMED THAT THEY CANNOT SUPPORT A UNITY CANDIDATE (my capitals) and will field a candidate. North Shropshire Lib Dems are to begin campaigning this weekend.)

    It seems that this party have ‘slammed the door’….To use your words, “No more to be said..”

  • Alex Macfie 6th Nov '21 - 11:33am

    There is a fundamental difference between this and Tatton 1997, when Martin Bell defeated Neil Hamilton (who BTW recently became UKIP’s 150th (or something) leader). Owen Paterson is (almost certainly) not going to be the official Tory candidate in the North Shropshire by-election. If he’d been recalled, then been reselected as the Tory candidate in the resulting by-election, then it would make sense to have a unified anti-sleaze candidate. But it’ll be very different when the Tory candidate will be someone new, as voters will be judging the new candidate, rather than the previous MP. This is normally how it is — voters tend to look to the future not the past in by-elections (which BTW is also why it is wrong to be giving the Tory candidate a clear run in Southend West).

    So democracy is best served in this case by a normal multi-party contest. Sleaze will probably be an issue, but so will a lot of other things. @John Marriott is right to point out that “When it comes to by-elections, national opinion polls often go out the window.” But so do normal voting patterns generally (people were saying the same sort of thing about Chesham & Amersham before that by-election). So it’s far too early to predict what might happen in North Shropshire. Incidentally, if Owen Paterson had built up his majority since he inherited the seat (from John Biffen, a decent man who is probably spinning in his grave at the conduct of his successor) in 1997, this suggests he might have acquired a personal vote that any new Tory candidate would not be able to hold onto (of course, Paterson’s stock has now gone negative so a new candidate would still be better for the Tories).
    Finally, on the YouGov poll cited by @David Raw, once again YouGov tends to overrate the Green Party in its polling. Also it seems that most people who say they’re going to vote Green in a mid-term poll don’t in a real election.

  • Dennis Wake 7th Nov '21 - 8:32pm

    The Lib Dems have done quite well in past elections in both Shropshire North and Southend West. It would be foolish not to stand if a suitable candidate can be found.

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