LBC Views: It comes to something when John Major and David Mellor lecture about sleaze

9 November 2021, 15:23 | Updated: 9 November 2021, 15:31

Iain Dale says it has been a truly unedifying and disastrous week for the Conservative Party.
Iain Dale says it has been a truly unedifying and disastrous week for the Conservative Party. Picture: LBC
Iain Dale

By Iain Dale

It comes to something when you have John Major and David Mellor lecturing the current government about sleaze. What is it with some people that they have no sense of irony?

Having said that, it has been a truly unedifying and disastrous week for the Conservative Party, and the stench of hypocrisy doesn't seem as if it is going to go away anytime soon.

The Major government lost office for many reasons, but sleaze was uppermost among them. We saw it then, and we saw it in the Expenses Scandal of 2009 - voters do not like any aspect of financial wrongdoing, no matter how tenuous it may be.

And if the story dominates the headlines for days and maybe weeks on end, it is bound to be reflected in the opinion polls at some point. Boris Johnson may have so far been Mr Teflon, but I sense that the wind is beginning to turn.

There will always be sex and financial scandals in the political world. All that can be done by politicians, parties and the "system" is to try to make democracy as clean as possible. Compared to most other countries, we do quite well, even though current headlines may lead people to the opposite opinion.

But whenever politicians appear to become lobbyists, trouble will always lie ahead.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with lobbying. It's actually an essential part of the democratic system. The problem lies when money changes hands between commercial interests and politicians.

There's nothing wrong with a company paying a public affairs consultancy for advice, just as the same way they pay lawyers for legal advice.

Most people don't know their way around the political system. Why should they? Lobbyists do. And of course so do politicians.

Politicians always defend having paid consultancies by saying that it keeps them in touch with the real world. Hmmm. up to a point, Lord Copper.

Most of the time there is nothing dodgy about these arrangements, but on occasion newspaper stories emerge and the relationship sometimes doesn't pass the sniff test.

Perception is often more important than reality.

Last week the Government, and indeed, it has to be said, Owen Paterson, couldn't have handled things worse if they had tried.

It was a parliamentary and communications clustershambles of the first order. And the thing is, they had some - I emphasise, some - right on their side.

There were aspects of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner investigation which left a lot to be desired in terms of natural justice. Owen Paterson was quite right to be distressed about this, but whoever advised him to be so unrepentant and blustering did him a disservice.

Whoever advised the Prime Minister to sanction supporting Andrea Leadsom's amendment needs their head read.

You can't change the rules in the middle of an investigation under rules which the House of Commons had introduced comparatively recently. It's like changing the VAR rules in the middle of a football match.

And so the Government has reaped its deserved rewards for its utterly shambolic incompetence, and Owen Paterson has decided to stand down from Parliament with immediate effect.

Tory MPs are outraged that yet again they were marched up to the top of the hill, and then abandoned.

And now of course the newspapers are in full cry over donations and questioning the ethics behind the PM's summer holiday at Zac Goldsmith's house in Spain.

Apparently Boris Johnson is refusing to put a financial declaration in. To be fair, I've no idea how you would calculate something like that, but the rules are the rules.

Better to come up with a notional sum now, rather than be dragged kicking and screaming into doing so down the road.

All very unseemly.