Sleaze Scandals Threatening to Mar BoJo's Image Aren't Something New for UK Politics, Observers Say
The latest scandal over Owen Paterson's breaching of lobbying rules has actually turned the spotlight on Boris Johnson, who has been investigated more times than any other MP in the past three years by the standards commissioner, say British observers.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under criticism
over the handling of conservative MP Owen Paterson's lobbying case. Initially, the premier went with all guns blazing seeking to overhaul the Commons standards system and let Paterson, who breached parliamentary rules, off the hook. However, following a backlash from across the political spectrum the BoJo government made a U-turn and threw the troubled Tory under the bus.
Facing a potential suspension, Paterson announced his resignation
as MP for North Shropshire: "I will remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics," the British politician said in a statement.
BoJo is Under Fire
However, it's not Paterson but the British PM who sustained further reputational damage, according to the Guardian. "This week’s chaos was all about Boris Johnson," wrote Guardian columnist Marina Hyde. "All power corrupts, the more absolutely it grows," echoed Simon Jenkins, author and BBC broadcaster.
Although Johnson has been an unusually resilient politician in terms of public approval the latest self-inflicted wound could affect the PM, according to Dr. Martin Farr, a senior lecturer of Contemporary British History at Newcastle University.
"That [Johnson] himself has been under investigation by the standards authorities more often than any other serving politician in the last three years adds to the seriousness of the situation," says Farr. "It provides Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition, with a large target, and he has acted with untypical force and focus. This scandal comes not long after David Cameron was at the centre of another case of highly-paid lobbying, and the cumulative effect of cases of corruption on public opinion - and the pro-Conservative Daily Mail has been excoriating - are well-established."
The situation surrounding Paterson has backfired on BoJo in the eyes of the Conservative Party and backbench MPs who "may be less willing to back him in the future if he asks them to vote for something many of them don't agree with", suggests Wyn Grant, professor of politics at the University of Warwick.
In addition to this, the Conservative lead in the polls has dropped by five points this week with Britons apparently getting weary of Tories' breaking their own rules, according to Dr. Sarah Lieberman, senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK.
She stresses that Johnson's attempt to overhaul the law to shield his colleague is not something that Brits can do as ordinary citizens, adding that this is likely to have a huge impact on BoJo's popularity.
5 November 2021, 06:07 GMT
British Politics Has Many Incidents of 'Sleaze'
Although BoJo's flip-flopping over Paterson's lobbying scandal does look bad for the Prime Minister, it's not something extraordinary for British politics, the observers admit.
"British politics has many incidents of ‘sleaze’, from the personal lives of MPs – going back we can think about John Major (ex-prime minister) more recently we see issues relating to Matt Hancock’s extra marital affair and Michael Gove’s marriage breakdown," notes Sarah Lieberman.
If one digs deeper into history, one would see that one of Britain’s great statesmen, David Lloyd George, sold honours for profit after the First World War, remarks Martin Farr, lamenting the fact that nothing has been learnt by politicians since those times.
"The most recent spate of scandal centres on the mid-1990s - as a result of which the present system of investigation and sanction was created - at the end of the long Conservative period of office (which itself recalled the corruptions at the end of another long Conservative period of office in the early-1960s), and then the so-called ‘expenses scandal’ of 2009 which came at the end of a long Labour period of office," the senior lecturer highlights.
The "expenses scandal" really left a dent in the reputation of politicians as a whole, notes Lieberman. She recalls that this episode related to MPs in the House of Commons and the House of Lords who lived high on taxpayers' money at the time when Brits were asked to embrace austerity, lower incomes, less benefits, and less public services.
Something similar happened to BoJo, when he faced an inquiry into the redecoration of his Downing Street accommodation at the taxpayers expense, Lieberman points out. She cites some observers saying that the premier's recent attempt to change the law was apparently aimed at avoiding further investigation into his flat refurb.
"Boris Johnson is willing to bend rules, change laws and play with democracy to suit his needs," Lieberman presumes. "Luckily the UK has a very old, very strong political system with many checks and balances. This is proved by the fact that this has hit the headlines and has attracted such opposition among MPs and bad press in the media. The government has been forced to make a U-turn on this, which it does time and time again."
The next general election will tell whether the public have or have not forgiven the government, she concludes.