Last week, I had to take part in one of the most surreal parliamentary votes in my 16 years as an MP. Owen Paterson, the (now former) Conservative MP for North Shropshire, had been found to have breached paid lobbying rules, and pushed the interests of several private companies whilst continuing to work as a Member of Parliament. The Commons Standards Committee – An independent body – found Paterson guilty of these serious charges and recommended a 30-day suspension from the House.
Bizarrely, however, Number 10 and the Tories decided to intervene, and tried to overturn these recommendations. Rules had been broken and an independent investigation had been crystal clear that Paterson should face disciplinary action. The Government didn’t like this, so attempted to overturn the entire independent process and instructed their MPs to vote for Paterson to be let off. Re-writing the rule book because it didn’t suit them.
The Government were forced to backtrack quickly thanks to public outcry – and Peterson duly resigned – but the damage to the reputation of Parliament had already been done.
It is a privilege to be elected as a Member of Parliament. I represent thousands of people who have placed their trust in me. That trust is a key component of any parliamentary democracy, and to cast that aside so carelessly truly beggars’ belief.
We must have the highest standards for our elected representatives. I know that most MPs do the job because they genuinely care about their constituents, but where standards are breached tough and robust action must be taken.
This Government has a real problem with sleaze, something that has been apparent for a long time but with the Paterson affair has now bubbled over into a full-fledged political crisis. Dodgy PPE contracts, cash for peerages, undermining independent institutions; this behaviour is unacceptable and has gone on for far too long.
People in Tameside, and across Denton and Reddish, expect their elected representatives to do the job properly. They do not expect us to take cushy second jobs, or take paid corporate gigs, or give cash to our mates. In no other line of work would this be tolerated, and it must not be tolerated in public office.
So, it’s time for the Government to act. We need an urgent investigation into Paterson’s dealings, but also a far more robust anti-sleaze framework. One that takes on the corruption at the heart of the Conservative party and sends a message that this dreadful behaviour will no longer be tolerated.
I never again want to see scenes in Parliament like I saw last Wednesday. It was a dark day in the history of our democracy. It’s now time that we shone some light on it.