Sleaze and Weakness doesn’t help any party in the long run.

It feels impossible to take a week off from politics even in these more ‘normal’ times! The Sunak era was supposed to bring us calm sensible government. The Tory party itself has always had other ideas. Who knew?

19/01/2023. Morecambe, United Kingdom. The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a PM Connect event in Morecambe. Picture by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street

In opposition it can sometimes feel comfortable to sit back and wait for the government to lose the next election. This Tory government is certainly trying its hardest to offer the next general election on a plate to Labour, despite their big majority in the Commons. Governments usually lose elections – rarely do oppositions win.

However, the danger with scandals is they reflect poorly on all politics. The electorate get the sense ‘they are all as bad as each other’. The latest Nadhim Zahawi scandal shows just how much the Tories have taken for granted just how much they can get away with in the last few years. The same is true of the VIP lane PPE scandal highlighted by the Good Law Project and exposed how rich Tory donors have ripped us all off for £billions. They have pocketed £millions for themselves ripping off our NHS in a time of crisis. And with not an ounce of shame. Tory sleaze is an easy soundbite and plays well to the gallery. We have been here before so we know it can work. But there are dangers.

The reality is far more complex. Not all MPs are as greedy or corrupt as the few emboldened by the avarice of the Cameron and Johnson era in particular. Of course there have been scandals over the decades concerning Labour MPs too. It is fine to throw stones in a glasshouse but you do have to be careful what damage they cause.

I don’t need to run through the whole of Zahawi story to know it has a stench about it that the public don’t like and hate the sight of rich greed. It may be a unpopular to say I don’t believe all Tory MPs would do the same. The immediate instinct of most MP’s is not about greed and selfishness. It is unpopular to defend politicians and I am not going to defend people like Johnson or Zahawi. They are beyond the pale. But by not distinguishing between the good ad the bad we feed the story. None of this caution means we should not uncover and expose sleaze and scandal. On the contrary I want it rooted out of our politics. we need those who perpetrate these crimes to pay heavily – and politically. There needs to be a heavy cost to these indiscretions, lies cheating and corruption.

But I do feel we need to promote the good work of the hundreds of MPs and councillors who you never read about in the media because they are getting on with the hard graft of doing the work. I’ve blogged before about the life of a backbench MP… the hard work and long hours looking after Individual casework and unpopular causes and issues.

I will defend these MPs because we desperately need to build back trust into our political system. The populism of Johnson and Trump relies heavily on clichés like ‘drain the swamp’. In most cases our politics needs some heavy pruning, it is not a swamp in need of completely draining.

There ARE massive issues with money that floats around the political system. The 55 Tufton Street brigade and the shadowy Think Tanks, lobbyists and ‘donors’. The ERG and Tufton Street and money for speeches to shadowy American institutes worry me far more than the details of MPs expenses claims. Keep us focussed on the detailed nonsense whilst the real corruption and manipulation continues unhindered. We still see the IEA trotted out in the media as a reliable source. At least we don’t see the ‘Taxpayers Alliance’ as much these days. It is this shadowy world we need the public to understand and be part of the reform of our politics.

The most worrying trend with these scandals if just how few politicians even think about resigning anymore? I am so old school that cabinet ministers resigned over being caught having an affair is in my lifetime! Over the last decade it does feel as though nothing shames some of these front bench Tories anymore.

Economics and Levelling Up

Meanwhile back to the policies. Quite a lot was happening this week on the economic front – Hunt’s speech (I didn’t like the bit about telling us 0ver 50-s to get off the golf course and back to work) and the Levelling Up agenda back in the headlines.

Trying to follow economic and industrial policy is almost a full time job now in my role as the Chair of the Llep here in Leicestershire. The frustration is that quite a lot of the analysis from Gove in Manchester and Hunt in London about what is wrong is quite good! The problem comes when it comes the solutions (low tax low spend) when in fact the last thing we need is another re-hash of the failed tory economic dogma that has got us here in the first place. And here is the major problem. Sunak is not in control. The ERG and now Reform Party frighten the PM so much they control him. We pursue these failed politics because the PM still puts the future of the Tory Party before the future of the country.

The country needs an economic and industrial strategy with ambition and investment at levels we haven’t seen for generations. In the post Brexit mess we are in we need enormous ambition and for the issue of ‘making brexit work’ to be debated properly and the truth be told about the damage it has caused. Politically it is tough to get the balance right but Business needs to be brave enough to say we need a different approach.

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