This weekend’s news has been dominated by the story of a BBC presenter (as yet unnamed), suspended for allegedly paying for sexually explicit images of a teenager. The BBC is said to have been “rocked” by allegations that one of its presenters paid a 17-year-old thousands of pounds for sexually explicit images, according to Sky News. The home secretary Suella Braverman has rightly called for prompt action from the BBC.
There is, though, the ‘other’ news today about another national organisation plagued with accusations of sexual misbehaviour by its members.
Tories accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour
Eight Conservative MPs have been accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour since 2019. One of the most serious includes an ongoing case where an MP has been bailed four times following accusations of rape and sexual assault. Newsquest has confirmed that this MP’s local Conservative Association has reselected him as its candidate for the next general election.
Over the weekend, news emerged that the former government whip Chris Pincher is likely to be suspended for eight weeks from parliament, following a damning standards committee report. A fifth by-election is now likely, this time in Pincher’s constituency, Tamworth.
Then there was Imran Ahmad Khan, MP for Wakefield who was released from prison in February 2023 after serving nine months of an 18-month sentence for sexual assault on a 15-year-old boy. And don’t forget Julian Knight — already suspended from the Conservative Party and under police investigation — who “faces a fresh set of grim allegations today”, according to Politico.
Of course, this sort of behaviour is not exclusive to Tories. Labour have had their fair share of misconduct as have the SNP. But it’s the sheer volume that’s impressive with the Conservatives.
Lack of discipline
And it shines a light on a complete lack of discipline within the party. Not just a lack of discipline about an inability to keep your hands – and other bits – to yourself, but a more general lack of discipline. Discipline about how MPs behave in public, discipline over agreed lines on party policy, discipline on voting. And political parties without any discipline do not win elections.
Discipline, by its very nature, implies rule-bound behaviour. But when the rules are neither applied or understood it becomes pure anarchy. It also means any sense of applying or working to a set of standards goes out the window.
The Owen Paterson scandal demonstrated the extent to which Tories play fast and loose with standards, when they voted to axe the standards committee. Sky News summed up then-PM Boris Johnson’s, tactics as: “If we don’t like the verdict of a sleaze inquiry we’ll change the rules.”
Fast forward to current Tory leader, Rishi Sunak. “This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level,” he said in first speech as prime minister. Honestly, I don’t know how he managed to keep a straight face with that line.
There is a fault-line running through the Conservative Party that seems like it’s a free-for-all for anyone who holds elected office. I don’t know how they select their candidates, but there is one thing for sure: due diligence has not played a great role.
A party at war
There now is open warfare between Sunak and Johnson and their supporters, despite the attempts to mute it. Johnson will always cast a long shadow wherever he goes. Today, MPs will be given the opportunity to debate a motion on Johnson’s allies when they vote on the privileges committee’s special report on partygate and in particular whether some of Johnson’s allies sought to intimidate the committee.
This is not a party at ease with itself.
To add to the total shambolic nature of the party, last week a group of MPs took it upon themselves to launch the New Conservatives. A group consisting of around 25 MPs elected in either 2017 or 2019 and mostly in the so-called ‘red wall’ seats. “The mere fact of their existence shows that they have more or less given up on Rishi Sunak” wrote the Evening Standard.
“Divided parties don’t win elections,” Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP for the Cotswolds told Andrew Marr on LBC last year. “They are addicted to chaos,” wrote Annabelle Dickson for Politico. “I think they’ve gone so far down that track as individuals,” a Tory adviser was quoted as saying in the same article “that they really don’t know how to pull themselves back”.
The doom and gloom around the economy is another nail in the coffin. But the real damage is the lack of discipline.
Labour smells by-election victory
Some are surprised at the projections for the Selby and Ainsty by-election and the prospect of Labour overturning a 21,000 Tory majority. To be quite honest I’m surprised people are surprised. Disunited parties rarely have troops on the ground. Labour can smell a win and has amassed an army. And the government has scored an own goal with having little legislation going through parliament. Labour MPs know exactly where they are going – it’s either Selby or Uxbridge.
At this rate the Tories will be lucky to make it into next year. Another couple of by elections and they may as well throw the towel in. Indeed, calling a general election sooner rather than later can put us all out of our misery – including those hapless Tory MPs who metaphorically have been caught with their pants down.