Sir Keir Starmer has launched a blistering attack on the prime minister’s handling of the Owen Paterson debacle calling it “corrupt”, “contemptible” and “not a one off”.
Starmer told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show “it’s a pattern of behaviour” saying: “Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister who is leading his troops through the sewer – he’s up to his neck in this.”
The Labour leader said Johnson appears to have a sense there is “one rule for him and his mates and another rule for everybody else” and listed of examples of breaches of the code of conduct that the PM has overseen, including Priti Patel’s.
“Instead of upholding standards, he [Johnson] ordered his MPs to protect his mate and rip up the whole system – that is corrupt, it is contemptible and it’s not a one-off.”
Starmer said he is “most angry“ that Johnson “is trashing the reputation of our democracy and our country”.
Almost half of UK voters think Johnson’s Tories are corrupt
The comments come amidst new revelations of further sleaze – with the Sunday Times reporting that the Conservative party seemingly sells seats in the House of Lords for a £3 million-plus donation to party coffers – and fresh calls from Labour for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone to investigate the prime minister’s recent holiday to Marbella – where he stayed at the villa owned by the family of environment minister Lord Goldsmith – and the lavish refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.
Johnson has already been subject to four admonishments by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and Starmer said: “There is a whiff that the Prime Minister would quite like the scrutiny and the standards to be weakened because they are looking too closely at him.”
Worryingly for the PM, almost half of UK voters agree with Starmer that Johnson and his party are corrupt, according to a new Opinium poll giving Johnson a -20 rating.
Labour will be concerned the poll found more people still think Johnson is the best choice to be prime minister compared to Starmer (28% and 26% respectively) and that their leader also has a negative approval rating at -9.
The Paterson saga
Owen Paterson – Conservative MP for North Shropshire since 1997 and former secretary of state (SoS) for Northern Ireland (2010-12); SoS Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra, 2012-14) – resigned on Thursday (November 4) after a row that saw Johnson’s government try to rewrite rules governing the conduct of MPs.
He had been found guilty of breaking lobbying rules – over payments estimated to have earned the former Tory party whip £500,000 – and was suspended from the Commons for 30 days. The government forced through a vote in the House last week to stop Paterson’s suspension and to change the rules governing MPs’ behaviour – by creating a Tory-majority committee to hear appeals of MPs found guilty of misconduct by the Commons standards committee.
The subsequent outrage forced “a screeching U-turn” and much discontent among Conservative backbench MPs who were whipped into voting for the controversial and highly unpopular measure only to see it abandoned by the government the very next day.
Rees-Mogg under pressure to quit
Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg is also under increasing pressure to resign with the Labour party saying his position is now “untenable” after leading the attempts to clear Paterson and the rule changes that resulted in the humiliating U-turn.
Shadow leader of the house Thangam Debbonaire also called on Johnson to “consider his position this weekend and takes steps to repair the reputation … of politics.”.
On Friday (November 5), chair of the standards committee Chris Bryant said Rees-Mogg had “created a crisis in parliament” by leading the debacle.
£3 million for a seat in the Lords
More allegations of Tory sleaze are printed in today’s (November 7) Sunday Times which reports that seats in the House of Lords are being sold to Conservative party donors who pay at least £3 million into party funds.
A joint investigation with Open Democracy “reveals that wealthy benefactors appear to be guaranteed a peerage if they take on the temporary role as [Conservative] party treasurer and increase their own donations beyond £3 million.”
It is reported that “all 16 of the [Conservative] party’s main treasurers” from the last two decades “have been offered a seat in the Lords” apart from the most recent treasurer whose role ended two months ago, following £3.8 million in donations.