Boris Johnson’s failure of standards demeans public office – Jayne Dowle

WHAT do we expect of those elected to run our country? Whatever our own affiliations, we are obliged to put our faith in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. We should be able to trust them to conduct themselves with integrity and act in our best interests, not their own.

Has Boris Johnson beenleft all at sea by a succession of sleaze scandals?

It’s not enough to roll out a vaccine programme and get the country more or less back to work. And it’s certainly not enough for Mr Johnson to don a silly hat or kick a football and rely on his jolly jester public image. The joke is not funny any more.

It’s not acceptable, either, for senior Ministers such as the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, to dismiss multiple allegations about Downing Street and the Tory party’s propriety as “all this innuendo”, as he did on Sky news earlier this week.

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I think, Mr Shapps, that all this is rather more than “innuendo”. The unravelling of the Government’s modus operandi is now damaging on a global scale.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves is the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister.

I can’t put my disgust more colourfully than Leeds MP Rachel Reeves. Declaring that “the fish rots from the head down”, the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster highlights the “sewage of allegations” miring the Prime Minister in sleaze.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the Labour frontbencher asked her opposite number, Michael Gove, to urgently answer a list of questions; who paid the invoices for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, and when were those payments paid?

When will the Government publish the overdue register of Ministers’ financial interests (the last one was in July 2020, but it’s supposed to be released twice a year)?

When will the Government announce a public inquiry into its handling of the Covid pandemic? And now the vacancy for the independent adviser on Ministerial standards has been filled, will Lord Geidt be given powers to trigger independent investigations?

Michael Gove, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, arrives at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, London.

Quite a to-do list there Mr Gove. Can I add to it please? Speaking as a member of the public who has submitted to more than 12 months of life under lockdown and restrictions, who has daily watched the news and known in my heart that Ministers are lying, who has listened to duplicity and evasion on an epic scale over and over again, and is now witnessing this furore over the Downing Street flat, Tory donors and allegations of vicious in-fighting at the heart of government, I’m saying that it is time that someone got a grip.

There is such a genuine lack of concern for ordinary people from this Government. Whether it is true, as alleged, that the Prime Minister said he would rather see the bodies pile up than announce a third lockdown, doesn’t actually matter. It’s the callous disregard. The lack of empathy. The lack of an idea, to put it bluntly, on how to lead.

This outline of shame is a sobering reminder that this Government is failing miserably to abide by the standards expected of those serving in public life laid down by the Nolan Committee in 1995.

These seven tenets, named the Nolan Principles after the committee’s first chairman, Lord Nolan, an Irish judge, are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

The Prime Minister, like me, is certainly old enough to remember that this shake-up came about under the direction of John Major after his ‘back to basics’ government was engulfed by sleaze scandals.

Does the concept of wounding or shame even bother Mr Johnson? Does he even have the kind of conscience that would be pricked? If it is indeed the case that his personality is designed to ride entirely roughshod over the concerns of other people, then all the more reason for a series of checks and balances to rein him in.

There must be no bullying and no harassment, no leaking, no misuse of taxpayer money, and no actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Those words are from the Prime Minister’s own foreword to the Ministerial Code. He is, in effect, corrupting himself.

We are a democratic country, not a dictatorship. It worries me that everything I ever learned about British politics is being turned on its head by an ersatz king and a band of courtiers so self-serving that they dare not challenge his autocratic rule.

“This is all about conduct, character and decency. Our country deserves so much better than this,” says Ms Reeves.

She is right. There has never been a better series of arguments for independent scrutiny of Ministerial standards. Mr Johnson should make the necessary appointments forthwith.