Monday, February 6

Rules about the standards of parliamentarians are useless. Here’s how to clean up parliament | Gina miller

TO A year ago, Boris Johnson warned of an “invisible assailant” threatening the way of life and the institutions of our country. I was talking about Covid-19, but, as I wrote at the time in The Guardian, the real assailant destabilizing the nation is more likely to be the prime minister himself.

What we have seen in parliament in the last week is more of a symptom than a cause. It is clear that a prime minister who lacks integrity or conviction, even if he possesses a large parliamentary majority, will always be tempted to test our fragile and outdated democratic machinery of government to its limits. With countless business and media colleagues, and underscored by the self-interest and lust for power that began at the age of 10, Johnson cannot resist wreaking havoc on our mother of all parliaments and our controls. and somewhat limited democratic balances.

However, despite my expectations, I confess that I was amazed at the depth, speed and pervasive nature of the robbery, which makes me think that the worst is yet to come. Not only are conservatives willing to change the rules every time they get caught, but blatant bombast, justification for U-turns, and reworking of facts seem to be the new normal for our politics. Every day I am reminded of the observations of Anthony Trollope, who, writing about a dysfunctional London in the 1870s, said: “A certain kind of dishonesty … has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason to fear. that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. “

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Is that where we are now?

Johnson and company have been tearing apart our democratic norms and institutions through divisive messages and the introduction of ideologically driven legislative reforms: the Election Bill; the draft law on higher education (freedom of expression); the draft law on police, criminal and sentencing courts; the bill on judicial review and courts; the draft law on nationality and borders; and the planned human rights bill. Together they are destined to diminish our rights and voices in court, in the media, on the streets and at the polls.

Johnson seems to believe that if he can’t get away with it, he can ignore or change the rules with impunity. The arrogance he displayed in connection with the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal was impressive. One can only assume that it is now refuse to endorse Geoffrey Cox to deviate from his own questionable behavior and save his own skin.

These antics only confirm people’s worst fears of politicians and further lower already dire levels of trust, recklessly damaging people’s belief in our institutions of parliament and in democracy. These may not be perfect, but we have a representative democracy, and it is better for the people to defend, improve and strengthen it.

Of course, it is naive to believe that people in public office will naturally behave with honor, or that principles and codes are sufficient. During the spring no less than 11 ministers they were allegedly found to have violated the ministerial code and should have resigned in their own right; But the kind of honor, principle and integrity that MPs have seen give up (with varying levels of pressure) in the past now appear to be extinct.

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And, as outraged as we are at the dubious behavior of politicians like Cox, who appear not to have violated the rules, as he says the whip boss approved of him leaving for the Caribbean while the Commons were sitting, many of them get away with it. because the rules are so weak.

It was only a matter of time before someone exploited our unwritten constitution. After the parliamentary spending scandal was exposed in 2009, there was general agreement among the major political parties that our policy needed to be fixed. There was a real attempt to empower voters by allowing the withdrawal of deputies But, absurdly, in the last resort, it was the deputy himself who decided for how long the missing members could be suspended; Worse, in terms of cabinet members, it is the prime minister who has the final say on whether the behavior is unacceptable.

In May, Johnson claimed that people didn’t care if a conservative donor was asked to pay for a babysitter for the prime minister’s son; but the reality is that we care. The public life standards committee found that three-quarters of those surveyed agreed that ethical standards in government are important in making democracy work and in preventing people from using power for their own ends.

We have to prevent politicians from marking their own duties and introduce legal frameworks that discourage bad behavior. We need a legally binding agreement between parliamentarians and those who elect them, to ensure that everyone understands what is expected. Work hours, disciplinary policy, harassment, discrimination, expenses, misconduct, conflicts of interest, and outside jobs must be covered. I believe that this reform would change the culture, the caliber and the cost of politics overnight.

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After three decades as an activist for transparency, I am angry to learn the total waste of time, effort and money that those in positions of power spend defending the indefensible and selling arguments morally and intellectually bankrupt. It is time to strengthen our machinery of government and public office so that the good are rewarded, the bad are sanctioned and safety nets are established to control the actions of any unscrupulous person who ends up having the reins of power.

Parliamentarians can then get on with what they are paid to do: assume their legislative responsibilities and take care of those who elected them.

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