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To the 211 Tory cowards – what do you think you stand for?

Posted on June 7, 2022

Imagine, if you can, being the Tory MP for Cosytown in Midshire. Or even one of the new breed from Roughness in Norderland. Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt too. It’s possible that you are not seeking self-aggrandisement, and neither are you sucking up the daily comforts of subsidised dining rooms and first-class travel. Let’s just concede that you’ve come into public life to improve the lot of other people. It’s not such an outlandish proposition: I have met such dedicated public servants from the Conservative Party at local and, yes, parliamentary level. For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re one of the good guys.

The embarrassment must be all consuming. You have made a conscious decision as an independent adult to identify yourself with a political party that proudly stands for individual responsibility and the upholding of traditional values. Chief among these is respect for the law and for the great institutions of the State: parliament, the judiciary and the monarchy.

These must have been a difficult few years for you. One of the first acts of the newly installed Prime Minister was to advise Her Majesty that it was lawful for him to suspend (prorogue) parliament so that he could get Brexit done without the bother of scrutiny or justification. The be-spidered figure of Baroness Hale condemned such illegality, but impatient disregard for the rules is a hallmark of the Prime Minister. As one of his teachers observed of him some 40 years ago, ‘he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation that binds everyone else.’ I think we’re all aware of that now, aren’t we?

It can’t have been easy for you to have watched as both sovereign and her parliament were traduced in this way. As for the courts, perhaps you were on the side of the Home Secretary who was keen to upbraid ‘lefty lawyers’ who would, peskily, insist on protecting people’s human rights. Maybe you cheered as the Daily Mail branded three high court judges as ‘enemies of the people’ for upholding the law. It’s possible that you applauded the leader of the Commons – famous for his languid lounging on the parliamentary benches – when he proposed to reduce the power and scope of such judges.

Frankly, I think that’s unlikely. The Law Society estimates that more than one in ten MPs has professional legal experience, so there must be some residual respect among you for the integrity of legal processes. Besides, one can only imagine that your local association is propped up by any number of sage magistrates and worthy Justices of the Peace. All the same, I think we’re all aware that some of your number want to ‘move on’ from what you consider to be excusable misdemeanours for which fulsome and sincere apologies have been issued. I’m not of your number, of course, but for the pursuance of the argument, we’ll leave the fixed penalty notice to one side for the moment.

I’ll be brutally honest with you – and possibly unfairly so. I’m going to guess that the good burghers of Cosytown and Roughness don’t have Northern Ireland at the top of their agendas and, to be candid, might be slightly bored and baffled by it all. What’s that you say? You feel much the same? No need to be embarrassed: addressing such confusion is the precise purpose of the unflinching law. The Prime Minister unequivocally assured you that there would be no border in the Irish sea. That turned out to be an untruth. But never mind. The trade protocols were only advisory, weren’t they? Some European law or other. You can just break that and make up a law of your own. Can’t you? And, what’s more, blame the other chap for insisting on sticking to the terms of the agreement that you’ve already willingly signed. What a wheeze, eh?

Not comfortable with that? I’m afraid there’s even more bothersome small-print stuff. I’m not sure if the name of Sir Alex Allan means anything to you, but he resigned from his position in November 2020. He was your government’s adviser on ethics – I’ll leave aside any jibes about thankless tasks. His was replaced by Lord Geidt who now, like Allan, believes his position to be increasingly untenable. Both men have expressed concern about the non-application of the ministerial code which requires the resignation of those who breach it. This now includes the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. Neither has, of course, resigned and both have been happy to endorse changes to the code. These mean that only intentional misdemeanours need to be punished. Unintentional gaffes like lying to colleagues or bullying them or having a party or protecting your hooky mates, can be written off as careless and unfortunate casualties of conduct in high office.

I’m probably not telling you much that you don’t know. I have a visceral dislike of your party and what it stands for but do have a grudging respect for some its members who have shown fortitude, integrity and occasional compassion. Such individuals present a telling contrast to the fawning, mendacious placeholders who belittle themselves by defending the utterly indefensible. ‘There is no alternative,’ your departed goddess once suggested. If that really is the best argument you can come up with, it’s time for 211 of you to take stock of what you stand for and have a very stern word with yourselves.

 

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