Normally, I choose the music first and it suggests a theme. This week it’s the other way around. The theme is sleaze, and the track I’ve chosen to illustrate it is Bob Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody from his 1979 album, Slow Train Coming.
This week a British Member of Parliament, Owen Paterson, resigned after being found guilty of breaking the rules on lobbying. Now, lobbying is a perfectly acceptable and, indeed, an integral part of an MP’s job, but there is considerable potential for conflicts of interest and there are well-established rules that guard against an MP benefitting personally from this work. Interpreting those rules is the responsibility of the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards. In this case, the commissioner found that Owen Paterson’s meetings with officials at the Food Standards Agency and the Department for International Development broke the rules and recommended a 30-day suspension from parliament.
Unfortunately for Paterson, such a suspension would have put his position as an MP in jeopardy. If 10% of his constituents called for it, there would have to be a by-election. So the government tried to head off the recommended punishment by announcing a review of the lobbying rules. The opposition parties and even some Conservative MPs cried foul. There was such an outcry at the government’s attempt to move the goalposts that they were forced to make a U-turn, scrapping the review just hours after it had been announced. Owen Paterson was so upset by this turn of events that he resigned as an MP.
The astonishing thing about this story is that Paterson resigned not because he had broken the rules – he still claims that he did nothing wrong – he resigned because he believes he is the victim in all this.
I will remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics.Owen Paterson’s resignation letter
Was it cruel to accuse Paterson of breaking the rules? Was it cruel to find him guilty? Was it cruel to abandon the review that would have rescued him? No, it was not. It was the wheels of justice in action. And, if Mr. Paterson hasn’t realised that, then he shouldn’t be in politics. He needs to realise that, as an MP, you gotta serve somebody. You serve your constituents and you serve parliament. It is not an opportunity to serve yourself.
N.B. The headline picture shows Rishi Sunak, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is not connected with this pantomime in any way, as far as I know.