Sleaze in government
The lobbying scandal over Greensill Capital and the role of David Cameron has consumed most of the front pages for the past week. The revelations have been shocking, revealing a culture of sleaze and cronyism which runs right through this Government. It’s not just about the secrecy and exploitation of the “chumocracy” – it creates a dangerously corrosive effect on public trust, posing real risks for our democracy.
I wrote about the lobbying scandal in my column in Metro last week, and it was the first question that came up when I was a guest on LBC’s Cross Questions. You can watch or listen to the programme here.
Sleaze and truth-telling
The lobbying scandal isn’t the only thing which is undermining our democracy: so is the Prime Minister’s persistent failure to be truthful in Parliament. Misleading the House used to be an automatic resignation issue. Under this Prime Minister, it’s being normalised – with no consequences.
I have been joined by five other party leaders at Westminster in writing to the Speaker calling out the conduct of the Prime Minister which violates both the ministerial code and the Nolan Principles which are supposed to govern conduct in public life. As reported in the Guardian, we have asked the Speaker to allow a motion to challenge the Prime Minister’s failure to give accurate information to MPs, undermining our ability to hold the Government to account. It would be up to the House of Commons to decide what action should be taken, but I will be pressing for the matter to be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
The normalisation of lying to the House that we’ve seen from Boris Johnson is deeply dangerous, especially coming from an increasingly authoritarian government which is looking at every means to avoid accountability. I wrote about this in a comment piece for The Independent.
There is real concern about so-called vaccine passports on many grounds: practicalities as it’s not yet clear whether vaccination prevents transmission of coronavirus nor whether you’d need a smart phone to have a passport, civil liberties and the danger of creating a two-tier society dividing those who’ve been vaccinated and those who haven’t. Some sectors are enthusiastic about a passport scheme, others are very worried and opposed. Whatever is proposed, it is essential that MPs are given a vote on it – which at the moment the Prime Minister is refusing to guarantee.
I am concerned too that ministers are pursuing the issue of passports when they haven’t even got the basics right. We still don’t have a properly functioning test, trace, isolate & support system, despite more than £24 billion of public money having been spent on it, nor do we have effective border controls. Talk of a traffic light system for international travel is pointless when there is no system for us to measure Covid cases in this country, let alone other countries, and our borders are still so porous. The long queues and crowding at airports like Heathrow only add to my concerns.
I explained my opposition to passports when I was interviewed on Channel 4 News, alongside the LibDem leader, Ed Davey.
The Finance Bill, which implements the policies set out in the Budget, is making its way through Parliament. As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, it fails on so many counts, not least its failure to even acknowledge the climate and nature crises. I tabled what’s known as a reasoned amendment to oppose the whole bill, which sadly wasn’t selected for a vote.
Switching to a Wellbeing Economy
A Finance Bill fit for the 21st century would see us pivot to an economy focused not on the pursuit of endless GDP growth, but on wellbeing and the health of people and planet. I was delighted to join the launch of a Wellbeing Economy petition, set up by one of my Brighton constituents, which is aiming to get 100,000 signatures so triggering a debate in Parliament. Please sign it, if you haven’t already. The coronavirus pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to rethink how our economies are run and this petition will add to the pressure on government to take that opportunity.
A growing number of UK businesses are supporting a change in the law to make sure every UK company puts balancing the interests of shareholders alongside those of wider society and the environment. I was delighted to give my support for a Better Business Act at a virtual lobby of Parliament last week.
The death of Prince Philip
Whatever one’s views of the monarchy, many of us felt a huge amount of sympathy for the Queen on the death of her husband after 73 years of marriage. He has been beside her for all her years on the throne, offering the kind of personal support that no-one else could. Parliament was recalled last Monday for tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh. I focused on his early championing of conservation and the environment (notwithstanding his game hunting, which would find no support among today’s environmentalists). You can read my tribute here.
I was very sad to hear of the death of Shirley Williams, a former Labour minister who went on to become one of the four founders of the SDP. She was an inspiration to many, particularly to women in politics, a real trailblazer and an incredibly warm and kind person.