Boris Johnson’s government in fresh swirl of murk and sleaze accusations

On Wednesday night, Johnson’s legislators were whipped to enact favor of reversing the suspension of a fellow Conservative Member of Parliament.

Owen Paterson, a prominent Conservative backbencher and previous cabinet minister, was dealing with a 30-day suspension after being implicated of an “egregious” breach of lobbying guidelines.

Paterson sent out numerous e-mails to federal government authorities on behalf of 2 business that in between them paid him an income of £100,000 ($136,000) as an expert. Paterson declares he was raising issues about the quality of milk and pork; Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary requirements commissioner, disagrees.

On Wednesday, Paterson encouraged Johnson’s federal government to back a change that would overthrow his suspension and rather refer the case to a recently set-up parliamentary committee of MPs chaired by among his Conservative associates, John Whittingdale.

British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, center, sits next to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The reaction was so extreme the federal government appeared to make a U-turn on Thursday early morning, showing the propositions to overthrow the suspension on Paterson would not proceed.

A Downing Street representative stated in a declaration: “There must be tough and robust checks against lobbying for profit. There must be a proper process to scrutinise and — if necessary — discipline those who do not follow the rules.”

On Thursday afternoon, Paterson revealed he would stand down as a Member of Parliament, stating: “The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me.

“I preserve that I am completely innocent of what I have actually been implicated of and I acted at all times in the interests of public health and security.”

Adding to an already bad look, Johnson left the COP26 summit in Glasgow on Wednesday before the vote, flying back to London from Scotland, voted on the amendment to protect Paterson, then, sources have confirmed to CNN, attended a private dinner at a men’s-only club with former colleagues at the Conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph newspaper. He is now facing criticism for leaving the climate talks that he is hosting, and by private plane.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has called the reversal and attempts to set up a new committee “straight-out corruption.” Writing in the Guardian newspaper, he says “the rot begins at the top. We have a prime minister whose name is associated with sleaze, dodgy offers and hypocrisy.”

Downing Street has yet to respond to Starmer’s criticism.

It’s true that Johnson and his government are facing accusations of sleaze on many fronts. There is, for instance, an ongoing investigation into precisely how Johnson funded a refurbishment of his flat in Downing Street.

Prime ministers are given £30,000 ($41,000) of public money a year to renovate their official residence during their term, but Johnson’s reportedly cost £200,000 ($280,000). He has been accused of trying to get Conservative donors to pay for the work, plans that his former adviser Dominic Cummings called “dishonest, silly, (and) potentially prohibited.” Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie attend a reception at The Eden Project during the G7 summit on June 11, 2021 in Cornwall, England.
Johnson faced harsh criticism when he was photographed painting in a luxury villa on holiday on the same day a report critical of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was released.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the British government has also been accused of handing lucrative contracts to people with connections to the Conservative Party. Transparency International UK, a respected campaign group, reported that one in five of the contracts awarded to private companies raised one or more red flags. They single out the government’s “high top priority” or “VIP” lane that was shrouded in mystery and effectively eliminated competition for public money. The government has repeatedly maintained that a fair and proper process was carried out.

Johnson also stands accused of trying to get a Conservative-friendly, right-wing former newspaper editor, Paul Dacre, the top job at Britain’s media regulator, Ofcom.

Boris Johnson walks off stage after speaking at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow on November 1.

The government has appointed a lobbyist with very close links to the Conservative Party as the senior external interviewer for the job, which has been seen as an attempt to smooth the way for Dacre.

On top of all these problems, Johnson’s private life has also not been without scandal in recent years. He has been accused of having an affair with someone who was receiving public money while he was Mayor of London, which he denies, and for some time refused to disclose precisely how many children he has fathered.

Frustratingly for the opposition Labour Party, these scandals don’t necessarily translate to public condemnation of the government. While Starmer is right in his claim that, for some, Johnson’s name is synonymous with sleaze, other voters have baked a certain amount of scandal into this prime minister.

“It’s not like it’s news to anybody that Boris Johnson is a male who plays quickly and loose with the guidelines. This is not an element of his character he has actually looked for to conceal in his long profession in the public eye,” says Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester. He points out that while Johnson’s poll numbers have been falling, “that’s not likely to be sleaze associated, more the shine coming off from vaccines. However on the primary numbers he’s still ahead sufficient to win an election.”

However, while this isn’t hurting Johnson right now, sleaze, Ford notes, does have a habit of building up over time.

“It might impact him however. Sleaze is more like a corrosive fog than an immediate problem. It might build up. A lot of the voters he won over by backing Brexit were inherently distrustful of politicians in the first place, so there might come a time where it all of a sudden harms him severely.”

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.