Tuesday 20 June 2023

A timid step towards normal?

Thinking it to be an historic occasion (no Prime Minister has ever before been subjected to such excoriating criticism) I tuned in to the BBC’s Parliamentary Channel to watch yesterday’s debate on the Privileges Committee’s  Report on ex Prime Minister Johnson’s truthfulness or otherwise when speaking to the   Commons about the parties in Downing Street during the Lockdowns

 The debate was opened with measured dignity by the Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt, who in another capacity had achieved recognition and fame by holding the Sword of State Upright for ages at the King’s coronation.  M/s Mordaunt welcomed the report, praised the Committee’s diligence in producing it, said that its conclusions that Johnson had wilfully and knowingly misled the House were absolutely essential if democracy were to function effectively, and she would vote in favour of it. 

Her opposite number, Labour’s Shadow Leader of the House, M/s Thangan Debbonaire, promptly lowered the tone by launching into a vigorous attack on the current prime minister Rishi Sunak for not being present: he was “weak, weak, weak.”

I believe these aggressive attacks are inappropriate and help to alienate a  large sections of the public from politics.  Here was an occasion for talk of high principles, the need for honesty in the proper conduct of public affairs. Yes the present prime minister’s absence may be noted, preferably regretted more  in sorrow than in anger.  Not “more of the same” vacuous knockabout.

Happily Sir Peter Bottomley, the longest serving MP, a Conservative, restored the tone by gently chiding her and admitted that when he had “misled the House” he had put matters right with two sentences:  “I was wrong,” and “I apologise.”  They can be found in Hansard.

Former prime minister Theresa May also made a measured speech, supporting the findings, praising the Committee  and pointing out that attempting to discredit  the procedure and the integrity of the members at this late stage was itself an abuse of Parliament. 

The Committee’s chair, Harriet Harman, gave some details of their findings and noted that she was wearing a necklace very similar if not identical to that worn by Mrs May.

I think that, on the whole, we saw the Commons acting at its best, although we may wonder why it took a whole year of investigations, £200 000+ on lawyer’s fees to defend the accused and then a five hour debate to  decide that Johnson was lying, when the rest of us had come to that conclusion in an afternoon.

The good news is that 354 MPs voted to accept the report and only seven voted against (the only name I recognised in that list was Bill Cash – where were “Sir” Jacob Rees Mogg and Johnson’s other acolytes).  The bad news is that 275 MPs chose not to vote.  Some would have legitimate excuses but it is reasonable to suppose that most put their perception of what might be best for their careers  rather than have the courage to acknowledge plain facts.




  1. Isn't a "free vote" usually described as an opportunity to "vote according to your conscience". Obviously, the 275 abstaining MPs decided to miss out on their conscience's opportunity.

  2. It is hard to see them as men and women of principle, unless their over-riding principle is the advancement of their own careers (as with Johnson.)

  3. The bad news is that 275 MPs chose not to vote. Some would have legitimate excuses but it is reasonable to suppose that most put their perception of what might be best for their careers rather than have the courage to acknowledge plain facts.

    What would have been the point in voting, given it was bound to pass? Indeed, there shouldn't actually have been a vote at all — the only 'No!' was shouted by someone who actually supported the motion, which even you must admit is a bit inappropriate when the topic is supposed to be honesty in Parliament!

    I can see the point of voting against something which is bound to pass if you have a strong principled objection that you want to put on the record. But why vote in favour of something which is bound to pass when you have no strong feelings either way?

    As to the alienation of the public from politics, I don't think that's affected either way by what happens in the House of Commons. The vast majority of the normal population neither know nor care what goes on in the House of Commons. Their views of Boris come not from what he might have said or not said at the despatch box, but from what he said on their screens night after night when he tried to terrify them into submission while locking them up in their homes in a strategy (or rather a lack of strategy) that, we now know, ended up doing more harm than good: waiting lists up, inflation from all that money-printing, the devastation of the education chances of millions of children, the list goes on and on, and all of it was pointed out at the time and ignored by Boris.

    The sad thing is Boris had a real chance, with a stonking majority and a real popular mandate, to make some of the much-needed changes to the country: to slim down public spending, to revise monetary policy, to try to get the economy growing again; not to mention to push back against the leftward drift of our cultural institutions. But he squandered it all: he let taxation rise to heights not seen in the best part of a century, he never was a public spending project he didn't like, and he ducked every cultural issue he was presented with.

    I meant it when I said that the Prime Minister Boris seems to think we was, going by his resignation statement, sounds great. But Boris was not that Prime Minister. He had his chance, and he failed.

    He did do one great thing though, he got us out of the European Union. He'll always be remembered for that, and rightly.

    But everything else? He was a dead loss, and good riddance.

  4. An unusual point of view that doesn't accord with what most of us see as the facts.