The Paterson ban: urgent open letter to all Conservative MPs

We received a copy of this letter to MP Conor Burns this morning. It could, with suitable amendments, be sent to every Conservative MP considering hammering another nail in democracy’s coffin today:

Imagine my horror at reading the following article by Christopher Hope in The Telegraph this morning:

“Boris Johnson will attempt to reform the House of Commons’ watchdog of standards following its decision to ban former cabinet minister Owen Paterson from parliament.

Tory MPs and ministers will be ordered by government whips to support a backbench motion that calls for the Commons Standards committee system to be dissolved and replaced with a new body.

Ministers believe the unprecedented move could lead to the resignation of Commons Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, who has been accused of bias against Tories and Brexiters.

Former Conservative Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is set to chair a new nine-strong select committee nominated by the government that is likely to redraw rules on the conduct of lawmakers.

MPs were expected to vote on a motion that Mr Paterson be banned from the Commons for 30 days for alleged violations of lobbying rules, which could have led to a by-election.

The motion, which will be formally published on Wednesday morning, is to be chosen by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, following the Prime Minister’s Questions for Debate.

A senior cabinet source said the proposed sentence for Mr Paterson – whose wife Rose took her own life last year, in the midst of the investigation – was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.”

I am absolutely appalled that just because Johnson doesn’t like the result of an investigation, he is not only going to ignore it, but dismantle the body that conducted the investigation. Talk about throwing toys out of prams. It feels as if I have woken up in Lukashenko’s Belarus this morning.

This knee-jerk reaction is not worthy of the mother of all parliaments. It is the act of a dictator.

A huge majority of the magnitude this government enjoys should be used for the good of the people and our democracy, but with every Bill that is brought to the house, we edge ever closer to malign authoritarianism. I am disgusted.

I compare Paterson’s response to the investigation into his wrong-doing with yours, and I find it galling that he is unable to display the same honour and humility with which you reacted when you were found to have overstepped the mark, and that the Prime Minister is backing his “bad loser” behaviour.

You accepted the findings of the standards committee, resigned and apologised. As such, you acted as a role-model for Owen Paterson. You displayed no ill-grace, venom or bad faith. You made no childish and baseless claims that the verdict was politically motivated because you are a Tory and a Brexiter. You did not smear the Standards Commissioner or the Standards Committee. You accepted your sanction with dignity and quietly did your penance. Why can’t Owen Paterson do the same?

All Paterson is doing with his specious narrative is reinforcing his claim to special treatment precisely for being a Tory Brexiter MP. He seems to be saying that Tory Brexiter MPs should never be criticised or held to account for breaking rules, that they are somehow victims of the system, and that they should be untouchable. One rule for Tory Brexiter MPs, another for everyone else. It is all the more Orwellian and terrifying because Johnson seems to be backing him to the hilt on those grounds.

Rose Paterson’s suicide was a tragedy and as someone who has been bereaved by suicide, I know how devastating that is. However, that tragedy should neither be an excuse nor a shield for Owen Paterson’s behaviour.

I know you are a particular friend of the Prime Minister, and will probably be displeased by my anger with him, but I would urge you to use your influence over him to persuade him not to go ahead with this regressive motion. Ministers should be held to the ministerial code and MPs should be held to parliamentary standards. Too often under Boris Johnson’s rule, they are not. It is as if all honour has departed from this government.

Those rules exist for a purpose, to protect and shore up our democracy. MPs should not be paid by companies on whose behalf they lobby, nor should they use publicly-funded facilities or parliamentary letterhead to do it.

Personally, I don’t think either the standards commissioner or the standards committee are powerful enough, and the range of topics they can investigate is far too narrow. Every advantage is on an MPs side. For these systems to be weakened still further is unacceptable. Above all, the committee should not be led by a member of the party of government, nor should seats on it be by appointment. Otherwise, it’s merely a pantomime pony with no purpose but to rubberstamp government decisions.

Yours sincerely,

A furious constituent