Wendy Chamberlain slams PM’s “appalling attempt to rig the rules”

You would think, wouldn’t you, that when the culture of your Government has been slammed in a report which outlined disgraceful behaviour, you would be absolutely mortified and would make sure that your actions showed that you were truly sorry. Especially when you had been saying so at length and you knew that nobody believed a word of your apology.

Well, you could think that of virtually any other PM than Boris Johnson. But the current incumbent’s capacity for brazen disregard for rules or accountability is second to none. We saw this when he tried to change the rules to save his mate Owen Paterson last Autumn.

Yesterday, Boris Johnson watered down both the Ministerial Code and the role of the so-called “Independent Adviser.” The Guardian reports:

The prime minister faced a barrage of criticism after he amended the rules on Friday to make clear that ministers will not always be expected to resign for breaching the code of conduct. Under new sanctions, they could apologise or temporarily lose their pay instead.

Johnson also blocked his independent ethics chief, Christopher Geidt, from gaining the power to launch his own investigations, and rewrote the foreword to the ministerial code, removing all references to honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability.

Our Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain is reported as saying that this was an:

appalling attempt by Boris Johnson to rig the rules to get himself off the hook.

It seems the Conservatives have learned nothing from the Owen Paterson scandal.

It has been clear for some time that the Government doesn’t care that accountability and justice are seen to be done where its own behaviour is concerned. With these moves they are effectively giving themselves the right to mark their own homework. The legitimacy of any Government depends on having some sort of check on its power.

The Government explained its thinking in a statement which accompanied the revised Code, justifying its actions saying that the public can deliver its verdict at the ballot box:

The Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament and the public for the use of these powers, including, ultimately, at the ballot box. In the same way, all Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are accountable to Parliament and the public for their actions and conduct more generally.

So how accountable exactly is this Government? Even before recent changes, our electoral system frequently gives huge parliamentary majorities, and therefore disproportionate power to parties which do not command a majority of votes across the country. This is why the Liberal Democrats and predecessor parties have long called for electoral reform.

But it’s getting worse. With the Tories going for voter suppression with Voter ID requirements and removing the independence of the Electoral Commission in the Elections Bill, they are giving themselves and advantage in the same brazen way that Republicans have done in the US. Watering down the right to protest and getting rid of the Human Rights Act puts our liberties in serious peril.

The challenge we face as liberals is to make people realise that this all matters to them before it is too late.

Wera Hobhouse has a point:

So does Tim Farron.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • It is unbelievable, the total arrogance of this Prime Minister and the cabinet colleagues who support him in the way they show disregard for all the rules that govern the lives of the general public, I believe the electorate is being treated with utter contempt and hopefully they will show their disapproval in the upcoming by-elections.

  • >The Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament and the public for the use of these powers

    Perhaps the LibDems need to introduce a private members bill to require revisions to the “members rules” to be approved by Parliament; just another small but clearly necessary piece of constitutional reform…

  • Chris Platts 30th May '22 - 9:40am

    We need to have policies to say that we would reverse the current legislation being introduced by the Tories to restrict our freedoms and reduce accountability of ministers and MPs

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