Tories under fire for ignoring standards in public life

The Conservative Party has been accused of failing to uphold the principles of public life, as several scandals involving its members have emerged in recent weeks. Critics say that the Tories are undermining the trust and confidence of the public in the government and the political system.

Owen Paterson’s lobbying controversy

One of the most prominent cases of alleged misconduct is that of Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary and MP for North Shropshire. Paterson resigned from his seat on November 4, 2023, after he was found to have breached the rules on lobbying for two companies that paid him £100,000 a year. He had tried to use his influence as an MP to secure favourable outcomes for Randox Laboratories and Lynn’s Country Foods, which he also advised.

Paterson initially refused to accept the verdict of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, who recommended that he should be suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days. He claimed that he was acting in the public interest and that the investigation was unfair and biased. He also received the backing of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the Conservative Party, who attempted to change the rules of the standards committee to allow Paterson to appeal the decision.

However, this move sparked a public outcry and a rebellion from some Tory MPs, who feared that it would damage the reputation of Parliament and the rule of law. The government eventually backed down and withdrew the motion, leaving Paterson with no choice but to resign. Paterson apologised for the “distress and embarrassment” he had caused, but maintained that he had done nothing wrong.

Other cases of alleged wrongdoing

Paterson’s case is not the only one that has raised questions about the integrity and accountability of the Conservative Party. Several other Tory MPs and ministers have been accused of breaching the code of conduct or the ministerial code, which set out the standards of behaviour expected from public office holders.

Tories under fire for ignoring standards in public life

Some of the allegations include:

  • Geoffrey Cox, the former attorney general and MP for Torridge and West Devon, who earned £820,000 a year as a part-time barrister while also serving as an MP. He also failed to declare some of his income and clients to the parliamentary authorities.
  • Andrea Leadsom, the former business secretary and MP for South Northamptonshire, who lobbied the government to award a £66 million contract to a company that employed her husband as a consultant.
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons and MP for North East Somerset, who used his parliamentary office to host a meeting with a US-based lobbying firm that paid him £6,000 a month. He also failed to declare his interest in the firm to the meeting attendees.
  • Priti Patel, the home secretary and MP for Witham, who was found to have bullied civil servants in her department and other ministries. She also met with an Israeli official without informing the Foreign Office, in breach of the ministerial code.

Calls for reform and accountability

The opposition parties and civil society groups have condemned the Conservative Party for its apparent disregard for the principles of public life, which include selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. They have called for urgent reforms to strengthen the oversight and enforcement of the standards system, and to ensure that those who break the rules face serious consequences.

Some of the proposals include:

  • Giving the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards more powers and resources to investigate and sanction MPs who breach the code of conduct.
  • Making the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, who advises the Prime Minister on the ministerial code, independent from the government and able to initiate investigations and publish reports without the Prime Minister’s consent.
  • Establishing a statutory register of lobbyists, which would require all lobbyists to disclose their clients, activities and spending, and to abide by a code of conduct.
  • Introducing a ban on MPs taking paid jobs outside Parliament, or at least imposing stricter limits and transparency requirements on their outside interests.

The Conservative Party has defended its record on upholding standards in public life, and said that it takes any allegations of wrongdoing seriously. It has also claimed that it is committed to reforming the standards system, and that it will consult with other parties and stakeholders on how to improve it.

However, many critics remain sceptical about the sincerity and effectiveness of the Tory pledges, and argue that the party has lost the moral authority to govern. They warn that unless the Tories change their attitude and behaviour, they will erode the public trust and confidence in the government and the political system, and undermine the values and principles of democracy.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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