As if the role of parliament in our democracy has not been abused enough by the conduct of Boris Johnson throughout his time in government, the response by some Conservative MPs to the privileges committee’s report on the partygate saga has been despicable. Tory MPs minded to support the findings of the committee – perhaps from personal conscience – have been threatened with the possibility of deselection by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries. Those sycophantic MPs who still support ex-PM-ex-MP Johnson perpetuate the erosion our democracy.
Rather than being deselected for voting to accept the report, it should be those who yield to the bullying of their colleagues and abstain from voting who are deselected – for failing in their role as upholders of parliamentary democracy. The cries of taking back control and restoring sovereignty seem especially hollow when Tory MPs are so ready to duck responsibility for acting on both.
Johnson misled parliament
So damning were the report’s findings, that Johnson resigned as an MP rather than face the judgement of his constituents. He knew that a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency would have been a likely outcome, given the committee’s recommendations of suspension from parliament for 90 days.
Johnson has been utterly discredited and shamefully exposed as a serial liar, both in parliament and during the process of the enquiry. Any MP who decides now to avert their eyes, put their fingers in their ears, or hum loudly by abstaining, is conspiring in a failure of democracy. Johnson’s plight has been brought about by his own conduct and not – as absurdly hinted at by some of his cohorts – by some deep state, elitist or remainer backlash.
Voting on the privileges committee report
MPs who abstain – whether by formally abstaining, or by not showing up for the vote – are making a clear statement: ‘In the face of a catalogue of well-supported evidence it is acceptable for me to ignore the committee’s findings and opt for a ‘don’t know’ or ‘don’t care’ response by withholding my vote.’
Yet there is parliamentary procedure in place that could yet see the speaker of the House of Commons decide not to go ahead with a vote at all. Perversely, after 12 months of time and effort invested by the privileges committee in producing the report, as appointed to do so by a unanimous vote by MPs, the House of Commons could avoid a vote altogether. Instead, they could opt to reduce things to a parliamentary shouting match, with the outcome determined by whether “Ayes” or the “Nos” shout the loudest.
Yet again we see that taking back control in our British democracy serves one sector of our society to the detriment of all others. Those already in control have, it seems, endless means available to enable them to dodge accountability from facing difficulty truths and taking principled decisions.
Those MPs who ‘just happen’ not to be in parliament today, amongst whom it is believed is Rishi Sunak, are no less culpable of dodging this important issue.
Put Johnson in the stocks?
A final thought. One Tory MP commenting on the report thought it was far too harsh and compared it with putting Johnson in the stocks. This medieval practice allowed the public to vent their disapproval by pelting the miscreant with rotten fruit and vegetables. Might that be one piece in a raft of regressive Home Office policy-making that the public could get behind?