“Corrupt, contemptible and not a one-off”. That was Sir Keir Starmer’s assessment of the Owen Paterson row that has blighted the government this past week.
Rules put in place to protect the public and uphold the reputation of Parliament were ripped up in order to protect the prime minister’s “mate”, the Labour leader said, echoing comments by Sir John Major, who said the conduct was “shameful”.
But should it come as a surprise?
Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic we witnessed cronyism on a scale never seen before in government, with millions of pounds of taxpayer money handed out to donors, friends and even old pub landlords who made it onto a carefully-curated VIP list.
This weekend we learned that donating at least £3 million to the Tory Party coffers “guarantees” you a seat in the House of Lords, a scandal that would have once rocked most administrations. Today, it is par for the course.
And you merely need to look at the people at the top of the pile to figure out why.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons and the man who led the Commons debate for the government, takes over £600,000 a year in dividends from his investment firm Somerset Capital.
Last year it was revealed his business partner,Dominic Johnson, has been handed a senior position at the Department for International Trade.
And he’s not alone.
A quarter of the Tory MPs who backed Owen Paterson in a sleaze row this week hold second jobs, including Andrew Mitchell, who earns £180,000 from six consultancy jobs, and Chris Grayling (the man who handed a £13.8 million shipping contract to a firm with no ferries) earns £100,000 a year advising Hutchison Ports Europe, a logistics firm.
When they voted for Paterson they were also voting to keep their own noses clean.
And to think, in an alternative world, we would have been pursuing a much more sane course.