The Tories Don’t Deserve Another Term in Government | William Hallowell
If the Conservative Party is voted in again, after the calamity of Johnson’s Government, it will be clear that the public is willing to tolerate dishonest, disingenuous politicians who show a clear contempt for the electorate and democratic accountability. The Tories don’t deserve the satisfaction in knowing they can get away with far worse behaviour, not least it actually be tolerated by the people. Another Tory term would have disastrous consequences for the British political establishment and should raise questions about the standards to which we hold our leaders.
The last twelve months have been catastrophic for the Conservative Government. From a number of self-inflicted scandals that have highlighted the hypocrisy at the heart of the leadership – most notably through the breaking of the Government’s own Covid restrictions – to the prevalence of ‘sleaze’, that favourite media and Opposition buzzword, which appears to rife within the parliamentary party and extends beyond the Cabinet. It is fair to say that the Tory party has endured relentless criticism from all sides, including its own backbenches (at last) – though it must be stressed that the party’s susceptibility to scandal is self-inflicted.
What has been consistently highlighted, as a reaction to scandal and criticism, is the lack of respect for accountability and thus the contempt for the British people in not providing genuine explanation or honest answer. Instead, spin has become a by-product of this Government – whether as a result of it being self-imposed or otherwise. Every time there is the next inevitable scandal because an MP has broken the ministerial code, or ignored Covid guidelines forcefully imposed upon the rest of us, it seems there is always a fitting line or scene from The Thick of It to accompany the real events in British politics. This is concerning to say the least.
The behaviour of this Government has demonstrated that it does not deserve to win the next election. This is not to say that there is any suitable party to replace it, because there isn’t; but, simply, the precedent another Tory election win would set would be disastrous for British politics – because it would mean the public are still, for whatever bizarre and absurd reason, willing to tolerate the audacious behaviour of this Government. There have been so many scandals throughout the pandemic that, pen to paper, it would be hard to bullet-point them all; and seemingly, the most damaging and shocking PR disasters have been those where ministers have resisted resignation or where there has been a deliberate evasion of accountability.
Of all recent scandals, the most concerning was the Owen Paterson lobbying fiasco. What made it so appalling, and obvious that there is so much contempt for democratic accountability and the British public within the party, was not the initial breaking of the story, but the Government’s reaction to it. Whilst in itself, it is totally shameful that Paterson was found to have lobbied the Government on behalf of two companies, what is most problematic is the attempts to avoid scrutiny.
The Leadsom Amendment, which passed with a majority of support from Conservative MPs, was an outrageous attempt to overrule the guilty finding of the independent standards committee against Paterson and to rewrite the rules for parliamentarians so as to get their mate off the hook, as Angela Rayner put it. This is not the behaviour of a party that governs with integrity, or respect for the need for accountability of politicians in democracies. Only when the following day’s headlines were understandably unfavourable and the public were rightly furious, the Tories backtracked on the vote. A clear decision to evade scrutiny, Johnson then decided not to show for PMQs. This saga of embarrassing events was almost certainly the worst of recent scandals to hit this Government.
What also must be brought to attention again were the accusations of bullying civil servants against Priti Patel, and her having been found to have broken the ministerial code, that should have warranted the resignation of a Home Secretary that has a history of ‘dodgy’ behaviour, to say the least. When she was Theresa May’s International Development Secretary, Patel was forced to resign after she failed to be straight with the former Prime Minister over a number of unofficial meetings with Israeli ministers, businesspeople and a senior lobbyist. But it is clear that we – the public and the press – do not hold politicians to high enough standards or expectations. There were Opposition calls for her resignation after she was found to have breached the ministerial code, but frankly this is not a matter to be considered along party lines. It is no wonder that the public have lost faith in our political establishment, and feel that our leaders cannot be trusted, when this Executive fails consistently to demonstrate that it can govern by the Seven Nolan Principles, highlighted well by Alastair Campbell, outlined on the Government’s own website.
The hypocrisy of Matt Hancock, the then Health Secretary, breaking the Covid guidelines that he was partly responsible for drawing up and enforcing, was unforgivable – and his resignation was belated. Not only did he break the social distancing guidance stressed upon the public by his Government, but was caught cheating on his wife too with a university course-mate. Again, this raises serious concerns over the standards to which we hold our politicians. His scandal matters significantly because it destroys any credibility our political leaders may have when it comes to coronavirus restrictions and the cliched, yet so outrageous, attitude of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. This is not to mention the fact that the circumstances in which Hancock broke the rules makes him an awful role model.
It is clear that top Conservative ministers, as a group, are serial offenders when it comes to breaking the rules – some of which are drawn up by themselves. The conduct of this Government is wholly unbecoming, the actions of which not only embarrass themselves but the nation. The very fact that Boris Johnson had stood up at COP26 and said that Britain is not a corrupt country, is showing in itself. It’s like that Blackadder Goes Forth scene where Private Baldrick declares to General Melchett, suspiciously, that Captain Blackadder “definitely did not shoot this delicious plump-breasted pigeon”.
It is indisputable that this Government has total contempt for the basic principles of democracy and the accountability that is not just necessary, but vital, if democracy is to work as it must. And in this demonstration of disdain for accountability, and thus disregard for the people who put them in power, the politicians at the top have shown that they cannot govern – in inability, and by lack of principle.
That is why this Conservative Party cannot be afforded the privilege of another term in Government. Because if the British public don’t show that they won’t tolerate the improper behaviour of Boris Johnson and his colleagues, then they’ll go further in their contempt for the electorate and democratic accountability. This is a frightening prospect for the political landscape in Britain.