Bill Heaney reports on the graft and corruption debate at Westminster
That Was the Week That Was. Those of you with long memories will recall the Saturday night television satire starring David Frost, Millicent Martin and Peter Cook amongst others.
Scriptwriters for any contemporary series which takes political debate with the pinch of salt it richly deserves were served up with all the material they need for something similar to run on prime time television in the 21st century.
The dress rehearsal took place on the green benches of the House of Commons on Monday with the SNP taking a leading part in the hastily called debate on corruption and how to keep MPs snouts out of the notorious trough that once featured the never to be forgotten duck house et al.
Wishart, who has a reputation for faux outrage, told MPs: “What a few days this has been. What a week we have had to endure as politicians who serve in this House. Our politics has been taken to a very dark place indeed, with the sense that rules have been torn up and the feeling that we have returned to the worst days of Tory sleaze—sleaze that we thought had been buried and was gone, never to return.
“There is a sense of outrage among the public that I have never seen in the 20 years that I have been in this place. That is palpable and tangible in our bulging email boxes, with angry constituents demanding to know what an earth is going on, and demanding that we put it right and sort this mess out.
“One has to ask, what on earth were the Government thinking of? What were they trying to achieve? What did they want to do? What did they think was going to happen, introducing that motion the way they did?”
The motion, which was later withdrawn but only after it had done serious damage to the Tory Party, was designed to to get their political crony Owen Paterson off the hook for taking a large amount of cash for favours in relation to procurement.
Wishart added: “I almost feel sorry for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. If there was a short straw for turning up to try to defend this Government’s action, he most certainly picked it today.
“It should be the Leader of the House [Jacob Rees Mogg] leading this debate. It was him that brought that grubby motion to the House last Wednesday, it was him that defended it to the hilt, and it was him that took up nearly half the time that we were allowed to have that debate.
“He should be standing at the Dispatch Box today defending the Government’s action and telling us what he is going to do. He always likes to remind me of battles past; today, he is like the brave Sir Robin from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, bravely running away from doing his duty at the Dispatch Box.
“We know that this was a plot hatched between the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip, designed, approved and orchestrated through No. 10, with the weight of the whipping operation that we saw last Wednesday. This goes all the way to the very top.
“What the two of them did was open the Tory Pandora’s box marked ‘sleaze’—and what a grubby, rotten receptacle it has turned out to be.
“They are a Government prepared to reinvent the rules if they do not like them—a Government so arrogant and entitled that they believe they can get away with whatever they want.”
Wishart’s SNP colleague Stephen Flynn interjected: “My hon. Friend mentions the Pandora’s box of sleaze. He will be familiar with the corruption allegations that appeared in The Sunday Times yesterday following an investigation by openDemocracy. Does he not believe, as I do, that that is a matter not just for this House and for Parliament but for the police?”
It’s heartening for journalists like myself to hear that the SNP are prepared to cognisance of matters revealed by journalists and that in London – unlike West Dunbartonshire – the fourth estate are allowed into public meetings.
Wishart took up the question of cash for honours and elevation to the House of Lords: “The way that donations have been going into the Tory party needs to be properly investigated, and I am going to suggest a way that that should be done.
“We are on day six of this. For six days, it has dominated political discourse in our media, in the public and in our communities and our constituencies. Nobody—no Minister who has presided over something that goes on day after day—usually survives that. It shows no sign of abating or going away.
“I do not know whether the public will accept the apology made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; I suspect not. I do not think that was what the public wanted to hear. I do not think they were saying, Yes, we want to hear this Government standing there saying, ‘Sorry, we’ve got this totally wrong.’
“I think the public want to hear this Government being just that little bit more contrite and just that little bit more accommodating with the feeling and the sentiment out there in our constituencies.
“Our constituents are angry. Our constituents are fed up. I think the right hon. Gentleman has to do a little bit better than that.”
“It now seems that nearly all the past treasurers of the Conservative party of later years are in that place, wearing their ermine and taking part in the legislative decisions of this country. The only characteristic they seem to have—the only defining feature that seems to get them a place in that House—is that they are able to give several million pounds to the Government.
“The Environment Secretary said yesterday that they were in the Lords for their philanthropy. I think the public will probably assess that the accounts of the Conservative party are just about the worst and least deserving good cause that there is in this land.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP has today written to the Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg asking him to cancel recess and ensure Boris Johnson faces opposition parties for Prime Minister’s Questions.
In the letter, sent after Ms Chamberlain’s emergency debate on standards yesterday, the Liberal Democrats say that the Government has opened “Pandora’s Box” and “despite their subsequent attempts to U-turn, it has proved impossible to close”. She added “story after story” has broken into the news regarding sleaze, corruption and lobbying.
Chamberlain calls out Rees-Mogg for failing to address MPs in the emergency debate, accusing him of “[sitting] in silence”, adding that “Members of the general public will be forced to conclude that sleaze is not considered a priority for you, or for the Prime Minister.”
After accusing the Prime Minister of “running scared” yesterday, she has called for a series of debates on Parliamentary standards and for the Prime Minister to address the House of Commons directly.
Wendy Chamberlain MP said: “Boris Johnson must not run and hide from this sleaze scandal. The Conservatives are hoping that they will be saved by the bell, so they don’t have to answer questions on these allegations. It is utterly unacceptable.
“Any upstanding Prime Minister would show leadership and cancel Parliament’s recess. Boris Johnson’s attempts to avoid accountability tells you all you need to know about this Prime Minister who is taking voters for granted.
“It is vital that Johnson faces Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow. He must not be allowed to get off scot-free. It’s time for the Prime Minister to finally come out of hiding and answer questions from MPs about the sleaze scandal.”