At the risk of boring any regular readers, I would like to return once again to the utter embarrassment that is referred to (by some) as democracy in the United Kingdom. A political system which is quite evidently incapable of (and perhaps uninterested in) managing itself or protecting itself from abuse; notably abuse from within. Not only can it not protect itself however, it clearly cannot adequately protect the key structural elements of society like the BBC either. (This is not to say that the BBC should be protected, merely that as a culturally important part of British society, it should be necessary for there to be meaningful discussion and debate before it is dismantled.)
Recent events in the United Kingdom have seen countless revelations concerning the current government, and in particular the Prime Minister with regards to their behaviour and apparent failure to follow the rules which they themselves decreed as essential for the public to follow during lockdown. Despite these events being criminal, the police have refused to investigate, the government MPs have refused to take a stand or any form of action against the Prime Minister and the institution of government itself – Parliament, the Speaker, the Queen and unable to do anything more than issue a stern warning! Other clear cases of a total disregard for due process and protocol involve (but are not limited to):
- the Home Secretary adding 18 pages of text to a Policing Bill 3 months after the Commons had voted on it in an attempt to bypass Parliamentary scrutiny
- the Prime Minister has provably lied to Parliament on numerous occasions – despite which being against the rules of Parliament and the Ministerial Code, he has neither been sanctioned nor forced to resign
- repeated announcements to the press and media concerning government policy changes before such changes have been announced or debated in the House of Commons
The repetitious nature of the last two points – the lying and the disregard for political protocol is perhaps the telling point here. In a simple google search I manager to find 6 clear examples of the government being reprimanded for making public statements on policy before making them to Parliament – and yet I can find no record of any penalty ascribed to those involved:
- May 5th 2020 the Speaker warned the government not to announce Covid policy to the press before Parliament.
- September 30th 2020 the Speaker made a statement concerning approach taken by government to avoid scrutiny on legislation
- June 14th 2021 the Speaker warned the Prime Minister that Parliament should be informed of policy updates before the press.
- October 21st 2021 the Speaker complained of the lack of respect being shown to Parliament for announcements and briefings
- October 25th 2021 the Speaker criticised the government because parts of the budget were released to the press before Parliament.
- 17th January 2022 the Speaker reminded the Culture Secretary that announcements should be made to Parliament rather than be tweeted
Yet other than make complaints in the House of Commons, the Speaker has no authority to actually sanction those who transgress – the result of which is a total disregard for the rules by those in government.
There is a Ministerial Code which is intended as a standard of behaviour for government Ministers. This code clearly states that “it is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”. Yet this code is policed by the Prime Minister, and in many cases of lies being told to Parliament it is the Prime Minister doing the lying!!
Beyond this, there does remain the Code of Conduct of MPs – the breaching of which can be investigated by the Committee on Standards – although as was seen in the case of MP Owen Patterson. Owen Patterson MP was found guilty by the Committee on Standards of breaching the Code of Conduct and yet when the time came to vote on his suspension from the House for 30 days, the government MPs instead voted to amend the rules of the Committee on Standards and to revisit the case.
All of which means that – the Speaker of the House cannot sanction MPs, the Prime could but does not sanction government ministers, and the Committee on Standards can sanction MPs – but only if MPs let it. So… where is the accountability? (Even the police refuse to investigate the law-breaking parties in Number 10, presumably for fear of having their funding cut!)
The system as it is today has no reliable form of governance – and therefore it is open to the abuse that we are seeing today. A government which has a majority of MPs can to all intents and purposes behave as it pleases – and the party-political nature of this system means that MPs are so busy jockeying for position and trying to curry favour that they dare not call out the corruption for what it is lest they be ostracised from their own little gravy-train life. The Ministerial Code indicates that all government Ministers have “collective responsibility” – but it would seem that MPs don’t see this as a responsibility to uphold standards, but as a responsibility to defend people like themselves – the Blue party MPs defend Blues, and the Red party MPs defend Reds, etc. etc. It doesn’t matter which colour is in power – the system by its very nature is corrupt. It suffers no scrutiny and has no way of stopping those in power from corrupting it even further.
Where is the independent body that can stand on principle without fear of reprisals from those in power? Even the (free?!!!) press cannot seek to hold the government to account for fear of having its funding removed or being dismantled altogether.
The Ministerial Code has one thing right – there is collective responsibility… every MP who continues to sit as an MP is responsible for perpetuating this facade.