About time we cleaned up politics

In George Orwell’s “1984” Winston Smith is tortured until he agrees that two plus two equals five. The point is to make him see that there is no objective truth other than what Big Brother says is true.  To give up on truth altogether.

Good citizens were exhorted to train their minds to only think well of the government.  “Crimestop” as Orwell described it, “includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.” 

On the outside wall were the three slogans of the Party: “WAR IS PEACE,” “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” and “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. 

Let’s add “CORRUPTION IS INTEGRITY.”  It is the world of the three word slogan and the abusive Tweet.  But don’t despair – there is such a thing as truth.  And it comes out eventually.

Tory MP Owen Patterson received over £100,000 a year on top of his MP’s salary, to lobby ministers for Randox, and Lynn’s Country Foods.  He was investigated, given appeals, and represented by his lawyers.  He was still found guilty of breaking lobbying rules. 

When the vote to suspend him came before Parliament, the PM and the Tory whips closed ranks to change the system.  The Government won the vote.  MPs would now regulate themselves.  Ministers started a briefing campaign against the Standards Commissioner.  MPs were briefed to say Paterson’s treatment was unfair.  Poor Mr Paterson was the victim all along.  Two plus two equals five. 

Until the following day, when the weight of truth forced a U-turn. 

Here’s a simple moral truth.  The culture of MPs having a second job is wrong.  If you can’t manage on £81,932 a year, then don’t run as an MP.  Despite getting £520 an hour from Randox, Paterson voted to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week.  And voted against giving kids free school meals through the holidays. 

That a corrupt politician got caught isn’t the big story.  In just the past year Robert Jenrick accepted a donation of £12,000 after letting property developer Richard Desmond off a £45 million bill.  Oil firms who donated £419,000 to the Tory Party won oil exploration licenses in British waters – in the middle of a climate emergency.  And Matt Hanckock’s mates got £millions in PPE contracts during the pandemic via a private WhatsApp group. 

The bigger story is that Tory MPs closed ranks to change the definition of wrongdoing.

Blyth’s Ian Levy voted in favour.  As did Durham MPs Dehenna Davison, Richard Holden and Paul Howell.  The Government whips were twisting arms and threatening reprisals.  But custodians of democracy have a duty to put the public good ahead of their political career.  As Orwell wrote, “It is quite possible that we are descending into an age in which two plus two will make five when the Leader says so.” 

But let’s not be lazy and give into “crimestop”.  Not all MPs are the same.  Labour MPs voted against. Some Tories abstained, including Junior Minister Guy Opperman and Cabinet Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan.  For ministers to defy a three-line whip is significant.    

Mr Johnson wants to change the rules because there’s a skip full of corruption waiting to be investigated. 

The PM used a £25,000 a week holiday villa – and made the owner a Life Peer.  He took a £200,000 donation to revamp his flat with gold wallpaper.  Last week he took a personal jet – which we paid for – from Glasgow to meet with his old pals at London’s Garrick club to save his old mate Owen Paterson.  Not a small jet, mind, but an Airbus A321 that normally carries 196 passengers. 

What’s the media and commentariat response?  “Ooh, he might lose some popularity in the polls.”  If we had better political journalism in this country, they’d be asking, “How do we prevent this from happening again?” 

There is an offence called Misconduct in Public Office.  It’s a centuries old law that’s so ill-defined it’s not much use for prosecuting corrupt politicians.  Last December, the Law Commission recommended replacing it with a specific offence of “Corruption in Public Office.”

It’s about time we cleaned up politics.  The corrupt should stand trial.  However rich and powerful their friends are. 

*Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 08 Nov 2021