Tory sleaze leaves a bitter mouthful


The Owen Paterson scandal only scratches the surface of sleaze within the Tory party

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Image by Andrew Parsons

By Michael Athey

Please can everyone get their mock surprise faces ready because guess what? Our Tory government has found themselves embezzled at the centre of another political scandal last week concerning their sleazy wrongdoings! To anyone who has followed the news since Johnson (I refuse to call him just Boris in this article – read Molli Tyldesley’s CIB to know why!) and his government were elected in 2019, this of course will not come as a shock. In fact, I’m not sure it can be called a week in UK politics at the moment unless some Tory minister or backbencher has been caught neck deep in something no good. As a consequence, journalists and news commentators have been spoiled rotten with column inches coming out of their ears for nearly two years now. It’s been great for the news cycle. However, as a nation, it’s only becoming more and more evident that we are getting taken for granted by this government on a weekly basis.

"By putting the whip on the vote to block suspension, Johnson had shown that the disgraced Paterson had the full resolute support of Number 10. Full resolute support that is, until they U-turned after just 24 hours due to mass public outcry and outrage."

The most recent debacle concerns Owen Paterson, the recent Conservative MP for North Shropshire. I say recent, because he’s just resigned after being found guilty of using his position as an MP to lobby in favour of companies he’s also paid by as a second job. Initially Paterson was only going to be suspended but the fair and just Boris Johnson did not see why this should be the case and organised to oppose the suspension in parliament. By putting the whip on the vote to block suspension, Johnson had shown that the disgraced Paterson had the full resolute support of Number 10. Full resolute support that is, until they U-turned after just 24 hours due to mass public outcry and outrage.

This government is no stranger to a good old U-turn, but even by their (admittedly low) standards this one has been particularly embarrassing. It’s hard to say though just why the handling of this fiasco has been so poor. On the one hand, the reasoning seems to stink of a significant lack of morals producing a mindset of ‘we can get away with what we want’, and ‘one rule for them, one rule for us’. After all, what should we expect? Boris Johnson is prime minister. On the other equally smelly hand, the reasoning alternatively could just be a classic case of trademark Tory incompetence. I repeat, after all - Boris Johnson is prime minister.

Sleaze is irrefutably running throughout the Tory party currently and this is not the first time they’ve attempted to turn a blind eye to those responsible. Starting with the terrifying Home Secretary – who probably inspired costumes this Halloween – Priti Patel. Patel has broken the ministerial code through bullying. Yet despite an inquiry revealing clear evidence of the fact, Johnson ignored the conclusion and formed his own, instead ruling she did not break the code.

Speaking of blind eyes, there is clear evidence Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules when he travelled to Durham and Barnard Castle in the middle of a national lockdown. Johnson should also consider getting his eyes tested alongside Cummings, because again, he saw no reason that Cummings should go. The pandemic also provided opportunities for Tories to offer ludicrous PPE contracts to Tory donors and friends. In a time of national crisis, when people were dying in their thousands and NHS and care workers were in desperate need of equipment, the government still had time to prioritise filling their own friends’ pockets.

But we all know why Johnson fails to care – he’s in on the act too. There are still question marks over how he funded the refurbishments to his flat in Number 11 Downing Street. He cannot get the facts right about NHS funding on those buses he so often fawns over. Even before he was in politics, his journalistic career was one bereft of integrity, and he has been described by Lord Patten as “one of the greatest exponents of fake journalism”. Good job being prime minister isn’t much of a step up then.

Johnson proclaimed in the 2019 election campaign to be “oven ready”. In my view all he’s been oven ready to do so far is continue his career of sleaze right at the top of British politics. I wish he could just put himself back in that freezer he hid himself in.

The Tory party’s behaviour is particularly disheartening when you consider the election results of 2019. Vast swathes of Labour’s red wall voted Tory for the first time in a long time and for some the first time ever. It’s no secret that anti-Tory sentiment in these areas has been historically high. To paint the scene, for many in my home area the death of Margaret Thatcher was a cause for active celebration rather than mourning. Seeing constituencies - like that of Blyth Valley which I neighbour - vote Tory, represents a fundamental change in the area. This change though has not been reflected within the Tory party.

I hoped that Johnson’s government would realise what a monumental moment this is, use it as a catalyst to rise to the challenge of office, double their efforts and show why these voters are finally right to place trust in them. Instead their behaviour only results in alienating these areas further.

These areas have been some of the most forgotten about in the country, and when their government repays their faith through sleaze, it will only make them think - do we even want to be remembered?