Wednesday 3 November 2021

Owen Paterson and Tory Corruption

It is a dark day for parliament. By 250 to 232 votes, the Tories rescinded Owen Paterson's 30 day suspension from the Commons and scrapped the (formally) independent parliamentary standards process. Under the successful Leadsom amendment, which the cringing lackey Lindsay Hoyle was well within his rights to reject, the Tories have seized control of standards by installing a committee on which they will have a majority to decide what the new system's going to be. Quite rightly, Labour and the SNP said they're going to boycott this farce. In the meantime Paterson will carry on, still on the payroll of Randox Laboratories free to lobby ministers and ask questions on their behalf. A disgraced MP flaunting his corruption in full public view.

This has to be considered in its full context. Answering the question 'is there a Johnsonism?', 18 months on the answer is a clear yes: a frontal assault on constitutional checks and balances governing the accountability and probity of ministers, and an entirely conscious effort to dilute the quality of parliamentary democracy so the Tories can pretty much do as they please. There is an obvious personal benefit to this: no Prime Minister has been as obviously corrupt, reckless with the lives of others, and as subversive of parliamentary norms as Boris Johnson. In a manner customary to self-styled presidents for life, the pins of the unwritten constitution are getting bowled away to the point where the meagre substance of liberal democracy is pure appearance, a gossamer thin negligée barely covering the indecent goings ons of Johnson's Tories. As a contrived, premeditated effort it's not as though there weren't any warnings.

This comes after repeated breaches of the ministerial code. The riotous writ of Dominic Cummings across government. Cressida Dick. Covid procurement. Bullying the BBC. Changing the rules to make Paul Dacre head of Ofcom. Scandals that would have brought down previous governments with larger majorities are weekly occurrences for this most degenerate of Tory administrations. Yet while 13 Tory MPs did find a backbone and voted against the government's three-line whip, this is the logical culmination of the statecraft Margaret Thatcher set in train over 40 years ago. Her principle was simple. To carry through her (counter) revolution the authority of the state was centralised in the executive. The story of the Thatcher years wasn't just one of bringing the labour movement to heel, but rooting out points of expert and administrative autonomy within the state's constellation of overlapping institutions and forcibly subordinating them to the authority of her government. A process that only expanded under John Major, Blair and Brown, and all the Tory governments since 2010 - despite many of these voices now being raised against Johnson's butchering of the constitution (more here).

Perhaps the immediate consequence of what the Tories have done is wake some people up. Keir Starmer's response was uncharacteristically sharp, at least by his standards. Maybe there's a belated realisation that doing some opposition is a good idea, instead of constantly appealing to the ref or telling the Prime Minister off for not having a grip. As for Johnson, he's doing this because he can. He's banking on the public, above all his voter coalition not being that fussed. Maybe. But the more authoritarian a government becomes, the greater its rigidity, and the more likely that political crises will accumulate to the point of explosion. This is what history tends to suggest. Hubris now, Nemesis later. In other words, what might look like a show of political strength will, in time, serve to sap it. But until that day comes, the question is how much more damage can Johnson do the public life and the institutions underpinning it. The answer is a hell of a lot.

Image Credit


jenny M said...

I live in Spain and belong to a non-political FB group called Brexpats in Spain. Members are mostly remainers and socially conservative, but not entirely so. The group is there to advise Brits living in Spain and help them through the increased bureaucracy is Brexit. However, lately its content has morphed into a much broader political commentary. It started with the mishandling of Brexit, then Covid. On the whole, its members are not politically active and or belong to a political party (myself excepted - an activist left member of the Labour Party). Here are some of the comments on the Paterson scandal:

"Crooks, every last one of them

In any other position surely what he did would be seen as bribery which must be construed as misconduct in a public office...

What idiots can go on supporting this corrupt group.!!! It is absolutely immoral.

The only thing left will be a revolution. Politicians must be held to account for their actions or otherwise U.K. is a tin pot authoritarian state. This is just the start has they also intend to pass a law to limit the judiciary. People wake up has our democracy is dying.

This is dictatorship.
At the time of his wife’s suicide, Owen Paterson claimed he was at a lost to explain his wife’s actions and had no idea why she would have taken her own life.
Now, 2 years later, to cynically use her death and claim the Investigation into his wrong d…

check the twitter feed of Biff Vernon and how the Daily Mail discovered the link between Rose Paterson, Robert Jenrick and the Jockey club and Matt Hancock. It appears the net was closing in. She was implicated in what was going on.

Nothing surprises me any more with this corrupt immoral gov but why are the electorate so silent? In other countries there would be a revolution!!

The next step to a Dictatorship !

Democracy has been demonised and corruption has been normalised. This is the face of dictatorship.Tory voters and supporters should hang their heads in shame for they act in your name. Absolutely shocking.

The media storm has already started - for good reason. The i News has a lot to say about it and none of it is nice, and Andrea Leadsom got a real grilling on C4 news.
Sadly, l fear you are correct. Apart from corruption and cronyism the one thing that the Tories do well is control the media.
The Tories really are high on sleaze !!

Nothing surprises me with this Tory Government! They r a bunch of crooks!

Man the barricades.

Yes, it is failed state and an 'oligarchy'.

A fascist government who change the rules for their own. Utterly corrupt.

Julian said...

Nothing will happen, except that Britain will become a failed state. It's well on the way. The momentum will continue, aided by the disaster capitalists, who will feast, vulture-like on the spoils. See Chile 1973 or Soviet Union 1989, for some analogues.

Shai Masot said...

Publish the Forde report!

Blissex said...

«Here are some of the comments on the Paterson scandal»

That is just the usual tory grumbling about politicians and the state, and it is politically meaningless.

Corruption is not just bribery, one individual accepting or extorting payment for specific improper deals, it is any form of improper self-dealing, whether for an individual or a group, for specific or generic improper deals.

The problem with the UK and the USA and some other countries is not the the politicians are corrupt, but that many voters are quite corrupt, as they vote to improperly self-deal massive upward redistribution via housing cost inflation.

Most of the same tory voters who grumble about sleaze or about brexit don't vote on that: as long as the government does whatever it takes to keep their properties gushing big profits taken from the lower classes (and that the cost of the hired help is being "contained") they are going to reward it with a blank cheque on anything else. In the secret of the ballot box they can happily hold their noses.

I am told that something similar happened in Italy with Barlosconi: as long as he kept delivering tax forgiveness and lax tax enforcement to his vast corrupt base, his personal self-dealing was forgiven by them. There was/is something similar in the USA, here is Alexis de Tocqueville in "Democracy in America", 1834:
Consequently, in the United States the law favors those classes that elsewhere are most interested in evading it. It may therefore be supposed that an offensive law of which the majority should not see the immediate utility would either not be enacted or not be obeyed.
In America there is no law against fraudulent bankruptcies, not because they are few, but because they are many. The dread of being prosecuted as a bankrupt is greater in the minds of the majority than the fear of being ruined by the bankruptcy of others; and a sort of guilty tolerance is extended by the public conscience to an offense which everyone condemns in his individual capacity.

«Nothing will happen, except that Britain will become a failed state. It's well on the way. The momentum will continue, aided by the disaster capitalists»

To some extent the UK is already a failed state, with collapsing public services and widespread low level disregard for the rules of civil life, especially in the "pushed behind" areas; favelas, drug dealers on street corners, barefoot scamps stealing hubcaps have been fairly common. Not too different from dickensian times really, where the state existed only as an enforcer of the upper and upper-middle classes.

The next stage is the collapse of the south-east outside the M25 area, as property based extraction on a large scale fails and unwind; there will be favelas, drug dealers on street corners, barefoot scamps stealing hubcaps in Swindon, Colchester, Canterbury too. as they degentrify like Cleveland, Liverpool, Detroit, Sheffield, ... The circle of prosperity will keep shrinking to the M25 area (including Oxford and Cambridge).

Eventually the upper classes, whose fortunes are almost entirely on Wall Street, will buy up everything for pennies.

Mark said...

I keep waiting for the corruption which actually ignites public fury with this government and it never comes. I don't believe this will be any different. The opposition doesn't push back, the media moves on, the corruption falls down the memory hole and all are free to do the next corruption.

I feel representative democracy has failed in this country and I'm not sure what that means for the future.

Is this how it felt for the citizens of the USSR at the end, nothing is working the state is failing but there is no alternative so best not to think about it and get on with your life.

What happens to a country when the corruption at the top is so obvious, when it is clear that those in charge have no idea what to do and care not for the people they don't even pretend to represent anymore.

Where does it end?

Anonymous said...

Seriously who gives a shit about all this? Three identical parties in are squabbling shock!

Blissex said...

Also in general I don't get what this "I am shocked, shocked that gambling is going on in this joint" story is about: the Conservatives are supposed to represent business and property rentier interests, it is their very political purpose, and many Conservatives, present and past (MacMillan, Heseltine, ...) *are* business and property interests.

Perhaps not on a crass retail level, but at a more abstract group level, yet there has always been a revolving door between Conservatives politics and property, finance, business corporate roles, and that is after all in the natural order of things, and is even praised as giving a bit more experience and depth to many politicians, as compared to spad-to-cabinet figures like Cameron or Miliband, Similarly for the links between Labour and trade unions.

Anonymous said...


But it looks like there is a u-turn already.

Doom laden stuff like the above may make some feel more pure and virtuous, but it is not based in the reality - which is that this government is in a much less strong position that may sometimes seem to be the case. Our host has written about it often enough!

As said by somebody who really did have to deal with fascism - "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will" :)

Anonymous said...


Surely the point there is that the USSR did indeed, eventually, collapse?

And it was actually a period of great political agitation, that was one of the reasons that it did!