inequality‘With a coat of many colours
He spoke of brothers many
Wine and women song a plenty
He began to write a chapter
In history’

From a commentators’ perspective this government is a dream come true. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, any sleazier, out pops something that is jaw dropping.

The latest series of sleaze has seen many challengers for the position of ‘surely not’, but this week’s winner is the Torridge and West Devon MP Geoffrey Cox, who has spoken once in a single parliamentary debate since February 2020. Cox spent part of this year working and voting remotely out of the British Virgin Islands, where he pocketed £150,000 of his £900,000 extra-parliamentary earnings for advising the tax haven’s government on Foreign Office corruption charges.

Unbelievable! Being charitable he is guilty of a conflict of interests.

Whilst this latest storm was kicked-off by the now former Tory MP Owen Paterson, and then made much worse by Johnson’s tampering, it feels like the tip of the iceberg.

We still have the decision on the funding of the refurbishment of Johnson’s of living quarters to come.

In addition, Johnson has admitted receiving a free holiday at a luxurious Spanish villa linked to Zac Goldsmith, the former MP who was given a peerage and job by the PM. The property is reputedly marketed online for rentals, for as much as £25,000 a week.

‘Just when you think it can’t get any worse, any sleazier, out pops something that is jaw dropping’

No 10 had previously declined to answer questions about whether there could be a perceived conflict of interest, given that Johnson awarded Goldsmith a peerage after the latter lost his Richmond seat in 2019, and allowed him to keep his job as an environment minister.

We have now suffered 2-year of Johnson and his contempt for parliaments ethics code. Each time he just shrugs, believing that his will is the law. Parliament has been reduced to a populist assembly, ‘a lapdog to executive power’.

His contempt for parliament was never better displayed than last week when he proposed a hand-picked Tory ‘ethics’ committee to replace one with whose decision he disagrees. His MPs are little better, they accepted the proposal before public opinion forced another U-turn.

As I have warned before Johnson, by stealth, is slowly grabbing more and more power and taking over the levers of government, E.G.:

  • Last year he forced the resignation of the ministerial standards officer, Sir Alex Allen, by rejecting his censure of the home secretary, Priti Patel, for bullying her staff.
  • He fell out with the Electoral Commission over his use of political donations to refurbish his flat, which his former aide, Dominic Cummings thought ‘unethical, foolish, possibly illegal’.
  • 2-years ago it required the justices of the supreme court to overturn his prorogation of parliament.
  • Tried to sack the parliamentary commissioner for standards, who was reportedly soon to open another inquiry into his expenses.

After his ruthless culling of Tory MPs who dared to defy him, he has surrounded himself with nodding dogs. Surely senior Tory’s such as Michael Gove and  Rishi Sunak must appreciate that his behaviour is unacceptable in a parliamentary democracy. Their silence suggests they are equally complicit; I look forward to hearing their defence, ‘we were only obeying orders’.

In this government, loyalty to Johnson and favours for mates are the prime requirement.

A newer lackey is Lord Geidt, formerly the Queen’s private secretary, meaning he is well versed in being a brown nosed toadie. Within a month of being appointed Alex Allen’s successor as ‘independent adviser on ministerial interests’, he had exonerated Johnson of any breach of the ministerial code or conflict of interest on the issue of flat decoration.

The simple fact that voters appear unmoved by all of this shows how immune we have become to the ethical contortions of the ruling classes, accepting them as the norm. Whilst, this weeks events may have forced Johnson to take a step-back, his goal of stripping parliament of its role in overseeing the professional behaviour of politicians and ministers remain.

He continues to ignore of rewrite rules that might hold the government to account, or act as a check on its power. The bodies that enforce those rules are similarly to be hobbled or neutered in the name of ‘reform’. The parliamentary standards system is the latest addition to a list that includes the courts, and the electoral commission. Meanwhile, the BBC, has been threatened by Johnson’s culture secretary, who said that the organisations fearless questioning of the PM by one of its interviewers has cost the organisation ‘a lot of money’.

‘shows how immune we have become to the ethical contortions of the ruling classes, accepting them as the norm’

He thinks nothing of the law, or international standards. This is the PM who proposed post-Brexit legislation that a cabinet minister cheerfully admitted on the floor of the Commons would break international law. During the G7 meeting in Cornwall, Johnson told the French president Emmanuel Macron that he had only ‘sort of’ signed the Northern Ireland protocol, currently the cause of so much tension between the two countries.

Sometimes favours for mates and rule-breaking in matters of state come together. For example, the bonanza of Covid-related contracts handed out to chums at the start of the pandemic, with a ‘high priority’ VIP lane created for those lucky enough to be in a minister’s contacts book. Often what their mates were offering didn’t work, failings that led to £2.8bn of taxpayer’s money being wasted. As the Good Law Project’s Jolyon Maugham puts it: ‘So keen were they to get their mates to the trough they interfered with getting the right stuff.’

The latest Opinium poll suggests that some voters are taking this seriously. The Tory lead has fallen to just 1% from 5 a week ago, while Johnson’s personal rating has dropped to -20 from -16 last week.

When asked who the best PM would be, Johnson’s 11% last week has shrunk to just 2%. Johnson is regarded as the best candidate by 28% of voters, down five, with the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, on 26%, up four.

As is always the case in times of trouble Johnson turns to that most of trustworthy of mates, Brexit. Get the electorate all riled up again. And this time it’s the nuclear option, as the prospect of a trade war between the UK and the EU has edged closer, with Ireland giving the clearest hint yet that Brussels plans to suspend the entire trade deal struck last December if the British government suspends the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol.

The dispute centres around our threat to trigger article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol; Article 16 is a technical term given to a Brexit clause that allows the UK and the EU to suspend any part of the agreement that causes ‘economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade’.

The Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, accused the UK of ‘deliberately forcing a breakdown’ in negotiations over Northern Ireland, adding that there was still time to step back from the brink.

His comments confirm speculation that, should we trigger this mechanism, the EU will deploy measures in the wider Brexit withdrawal agreement that allow cross-retaliation.

‘The latest Opinium poll suggests that some voters are taking this seriously’

We should not be surprised that the EU are losing patience with us. Johnson lauded it with the agreement he negotiated, and now, when he realises the ramifications of it, he wants to tear it up. Is that this is a government that keeps its word, or that acts in good faith?

If Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, is to be believed the elephant in the room is the US president, Joe Biden.

Yesterday Von der Leyen told reporters in Washington: ‘I think that President Biden and I will share the assessment that it is important for peace and stability on the island of Ireland to keep the withdrawal agreement and to stick to the protocol. This protocol has managed to square the difficult circle that Brexit caused. And now Northern Ireland has access to both markets that have access to the single market, the British single market as well as the European single market. Therefore, the situation is a positive one. And we want to do everything to cut red tape to be as flexible as possible within the protocol.’

The White House later issued a statement in which it said both leaders had during their talks ‘expressed their continued support for political and economic stability in Northern Ireland’.

Johnson knows that Brexit was the country’s biggest political issue of our generation. It is the one tool he can use to whip-up support from Leavers, who quickly forget his numerous misdemeanours, and return to their favourite past-time of EU ‘bashing’.

Unfortunately for our opposition parties, when the electoral map is reconfigured to pit Leave against Remain the split favours the Tory’s.

‘Johnson knows that Brexit was the country’s biggest political issue of our generation’

Conservatives’ gains in both 2017 and 2019 came by the party uniting Brexiters. Whilst the Leave vote is not drastically larger than the Remain vote, it is much more efficiently spread across seats. Remain voters are concentrated in big-city seats, whereas Leave voters are spread across the country. As a result, while only a narrow majority of voters backed Brexit, a large majority of constituencies have Leave majorities. Winning 80% of the Leave vote, as the Conservatives did in 2019, means you are well on the way to victory in most of these seats.

Brexit has served to highlight the divide in outlook and values has been opening between Labour’s past and present voters. putting the two groups on opposite sides of a tribal divide. The diverse youthful, university-educated, big-city dwellers who are becoming Labour’s new core vote are Remainers, while the ageing, socially conservative, small-town residents drifting away from the party became Leavers.

The Conservatives win by focusing on one side of this divide, whilst Labour suffers as the Remain vote is concentrated in too few seats and the Leave vote is too large and too evenly spread. To overcome this polarisation Labour must find a way to bridge this divide.

In 2019, whilst Corbyn’s advisers understood this divide, their attempt to offer something for everyone, a new, Labour-flavoured Brexit deal for Leave supporters and a referendum on that deal for Remainers, ended up pleasing very few. Whilst Labour lost equal numbers of Leavers and Remainers, the Leave defections were more decisive as they were congregated in marginal seats.


‘despite continual scandals and blunders Labour is still trailing in the polls’

Johnson’s continuing playing to the gallery with Brexit, means that the issue never goes away. For Labour to win a majority they must find a way to engage Leavers while not alienating Remainers.

There are issues that can unite both sides; the economy, the NHS, public services. Immigration, the issue that polarises the two camps most, has less resonance than at any point for a generation. Johnson’s magnetic attraction to tribal Leave voters disguises the fact that he has never been popular or trusted and his ratings are in decline. In addition, Starmer is a less divisive leader than Corby was.

The Conservatives understand that polarisation remains the best route to victory on a Leave-leaning map and will keep seeking new ‘culture war’ controversies to reopen the old Brexit divide. Starmer faces an internal problem too, as committed progressives want Labour to focus on an uncompromising socially liberal message add fuel to the fires stoked by the Conservatives.

The reality is that, despite continual scandals and blunders Labour is still trailing in the polls. Voters are not happy with the government yet complain they do not know what the party opposing it would do differently. Johnson is untrusted, unpredictable, and unpopular, yet voters still prefer him to his Labour rival when forced to choose.

Put simply, Johnson and his horde can continue to carry-on as they wish. Why?

The know no better, their background and schooling breeds into them an air of superiority, rules are for others, we are above that. Their fawning electorate are of an age where they still kowtow to their’ betters’, until they fade away this country will continue to regress in a sea of nostalgia.

‘And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
But I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
A little of the glory of, well time slips away
And leaves you with nothing mister but
Boring stories of Glory days’

Not for the first time I find myself feeling more than a little sad at the way things are and whilst ‘This week it’s all about sleaze and corruption’ may be manna from heaven to a political commentator, it leaves this member of the GBP feeling slightly abused and let down.

‘Johnson’s contempt for rules is well documented, as is that of much of the party’ is not something that is difficult to recognise, but I also agree with Philip that what we have seen this week is only the tip of a very unpleasant iceberg; possibly all the more unappealing given what appears to be floating in our waterways – who ever thought they’d see Feargal Sharkey taking up the cudgel on behalf of chalk streams.

A dozen years ago the Daily Telegraph kept the expenses scandal going for weeks as it theatrically extracted a line of dirty washing out of the nether regions of an institution in disrepute; how low can you go? Duck houses. That reminds me, I must get the moat cleaned.

There’s nothing to confirm from his Debretts entry that Geoffrey Cox used to sneer for his county, but surely it must tell us an awful lot about him that he ‘does not believe that he has breached the rules’; good luck in trying to use that one the next time you swan in to work the colour of David Dickinson with a couple of mill in your back pocket. 

The truth is that people like Mr Cox really don’t care what others think, and hold us in such contempt that they are quite happy to conduct their gold-digging in plain sight.

There is a moot point here; if as an MP your remuneration is higher from your alternative pursuit, does that become your primary job; ‘I do a bit of MP-ing on the side’.

There’s no question, there’s more to come, but a particularly ugly revelation was that Natalie Elphicke — the Tory MP who said Marcus Rashford should concentrate on football rather than getting involved in politics — has a second job; £36,000 as a consultant to the New Homes Quality Board. In the onion sack!

One thing’s for sure, Boris has had a tough week; in no small part of his own making. Whipping MPs to bail out Owen Patterson was a great misjudgement, and those that went along with it will all have been affected by a similar slump in their approval ratings.

So uncomfortable was it that Boris ducked PMQs to heft his heaving bosom around Hexham General (sans mask, natch) and then had to get on a blasted train of all things to scuttle back to Glasgow to wring any possibility of populist approval out of COP26 before anyone discovered that he is a climate change denier that voted against 8 out of 9 bills to protect the environment.

So as bears everywhere trudge wearily off to the woods with a newspaper under their arm, we are left with an inescapable feeling that COP26 was rather a waste of neeps and tatties; two tracks this week, just for fun – The Stranglers with ‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’ and The Boss with ‘Glory Days’. Enjoy!


Philip Gilbert 2Philip Gilbert is a city-based corporate financier, and former investment banker.

Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s

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