The word “sleaze” summed up a series of scandals that struck the government of John Major and enabled journalists to associate financial corruption with personal infidelity. Now something similar is happening with the Boris Johnson administration. The focus is more on financial inappropriateness this time around, as Owen Paterson, the Conservative former cabinet minister, stepped down as a MP after being found to have engaged in paid lobbying.
But the prime minister’s personal life has also been drawn into the story, with new revelations over the weekend from Jennifer Arcuri, his lover when he was Mayor of London, who claims he asked her how he could help her “make her career “. .
Ever since the prime minister tried to block Paterson’s punishment and then backed down when he realized the extent of the outcry, the headlines have been filled with stories of MPs second jobs and potential conflicts of interest in the government.
It found that Sir Geoffrey Cox, the former attorney general, was making huge sums of money as a Caribbean-based attorney, claiming his constituents in Torridge and West Devon didn’t mind. The Metropolitan Police denied a motion by a Scottish National Party MP to investigate whether titles of nobility had been sold for donations from the Tory Party. And a number of Tory MPs have drawn attention for being paid by companies that have won public contracts.
This has revived interest in the way emergency coronavirus contracts have been awarded, while another group of Tory MPs has apparently endorsed policies in Parliament without expressing interest in companies that might benefit.
The opposition did not escape the storm. Keir Starmer’s payment declarations for legal work before he took office are under scrutiny and questions are being asked as to why he even thought of advising the Labor Party in the first place. Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has two advisory roles with a law firm and an energy company, which he defends as the money goes to his disabled son.
The whole turmoil started because Paterson and many of his Tory MPs allies believed that the system of enforcing standard rules for MPs was flawed, largely because MPs had no further appeal after Kathryn Stone, the standards commissioner, and the standards admitted committee, which consisted of half MPs and half non-MPs, had decided against it. (Except, of course, an appeal to the entire House of Commons to approve or change the committee’s decision where the problems in Paterson’s case began.)
Chris Bryant, Labor Chair of the Standards Committee, has asked a “senior judicial officer” to advise on whether the system should be changed. Meanwhile, the Labor Party wants to ban MPs from accepting consultancy and paid director positions – while allowing them to be doctors and other jobs that public opinion approves.
If you have any questions about ethical standards in public life, I’ll be at your disposal on Tuesday lunchtime to answer as many as possible. You can ask me anything about the prime minister’s sex life, but I can’t guarantee I’ll give much answer – I’ll try to focus on protecting the public interest when MPs take part-time jobs or previous ministers take subsequent ministers.
If you have a question, post it now or when I come to a live Ask Me Anything event on Tuesday, November 16 at 1pm.
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