openDemocracyUK: News

MPs inundated with complaints from voters over Tory sleaze scandal

Some Tory MPs hit back at voters over ‘destruction’ of Owen Paterson, while others admit being ‘deeply unhappy’ about situation

Adam Bychawski
11 November 2021, 10.09am
openDemocracy readers have complained to MPs over the government’s handling of the Owen Paterson scandal
Colin Fisher/Alamy Live News

Conservative MPs have been forced to defend themselves after receiving a barrage of complaints from voters angry about the government’s handling of a lobbying scandal.

Last week, Boris Johnson whipped Tory MPs to vote against the suspension of former minister Owen Paterson, who was found guilty of an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules.

Now, more than 2,300 openDemocracy readers have written to their MPs via our website, telling them to oppose any attempt to weaken parliamentary standards.

One Tory MP, Bob Stewart, hit back at a constituent saying: “You have now got what you may have wanted; the destruction of a very decent man whose hounding basically resulted in the loss of his wife.”

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He added: “Many others wanted his annihilation as a politician (and maybe personally) and they have it now.”

Stewart, the MP for Beckenham, was one of the 59 Tory MPs who tabled the amendment to reject Paterson’s suspension. Research by openDemocracy found that 14 of the backers, including Stewart, had previously been found to have broken misconduct rules.

The government was forced into a U-turn on Friday after widespread backlash against its plans to form a new Tory-led committee to review both Paterson’s case and the standards system, which investigates MPs’ misconduct. Paterson subsequently resigned as an MP, saying he was leaving the “cruel world of politics”.

I firmly believe that MPs should not be able to regulate ourselves

Simon Jupp, Conservative MP

Another Tory MP told a constituent that he voted against Paterson’s suspension because he had known him for more than 20 years and that in his opinion he was “a good man”.

“I would have liked him to be given the opportunity to appeal the verdict and I hope in the future MP’s from parties across the House are given that chance if they are faced with a similar situation,” said Romford MP Andrew Rosindell.

Former cabinet minister David Davis, meanwhile, replied saying he backed the amendment because of his past experience of being investigated by the standards commissioner.

The East Riding MP was cleared of any misconduct, but said he had “great concern over the manner in which this process is carried out”.

“Any employee facing any kind of disciplinary situation, other than an MP, would have the right to discuss the case with others, to seek legal advice and be represented in any hearings, and to have the right of appeal,” he added.

“I believe that MPs should have exactly the same right, but no more, as anyone else in this country.”

However, some Tory MPs used the emails to express their frustration at how the government handled Paterson’s case.

Conservative MP Simon Jupp said he voted against the government because “I firmly believe that MPs should not be able to regulate ourselves.”

“I sincerely hope the next chapter of this process is significantly better than the last,” he added.

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Siobhan Baillie, the Tory MP for Stroud, wrote that she had informed the government about the volume of negative feedback she had received from constituents.

“I am deeply unhappy about how this situation has been handled and I completely understand the public is concerned,” she said, adding that “clearly everyone in government and Parliament needs to learn some lessons”.

But she also claimed that there were “undoubtedly serious issues with the process that was followed” for Paterson’s case and that the amendment “did not allow Owen Paterson to avoid the charges against him”.

Steve Brine, Conservative MP for Winchester, said he believed he was wrong to have voted with the government.

“This week has been a right mess,” he said. “The government has turned a problem – for one MP – into something quite different and it was completely unnecessary. It has left many MPs (including me) angry and, to be honest, annoyed with our own government. To say many of us are making that clear through the usual channels would be putting it mildly!” he wrote in reply to a constituent.

He added that after reading the report into Paterson’s misconduct he found it “hard to argue with its recommendations”.

It has left many MPs (including me) angry and, to be honest, annoyed with our own government

Steve Brine, Conservative MP

Labour MP Kim Johnson told a constituent: “What the Conservatives have done is nothing short of corruption.”

“Imagine if that happened in any workplace across the country – someone is shown to have acted improperly – but instead of facing disciplinary action, the boss intervened and said, ‘don’t worry, we’ll get rid of the HR department instead’.

“It surely wouldn’t happen. And if it did we’d say it was utterly corrupt.”

Speaking at an emergency debate in Parliament on Monday, Steve Barclay, the minister for the Cabinet Office, said, “I would like first and foremost to express my regret and that of my ministerial colleagues over the mistake made last week.”

“The manner in which the government approached last week’s debate conflated them with the response to an individual case,” he added.

openDemocracy has created a tool to make it easy for you to email your MP and tell them your concerns over weakening standards in public life. Thousands of people have already used it. You can add your voice by following the instructions here.

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