The Gavin Williamson knighthood feels like a bridge too far. I’ll be emailing this to every Conservative MP. I don’t expect everyone here (who is in the UK, a UK voter) will agree with all of this or maybe not even its basic thrust, but if you wish to use some or all of the text and also email some MPs, please do. I don’t view it as a wholly pointless exercise. In representative democracy, MPs are there to represent. The more the voices on one theme, the more likely it is that they will listen.
Dear [Conservative MP]
I am a UK voter and have no affiliation with any party, nor any interest in party politics. My interest is in retrieving some semblance of integrity in public life, and I am writing to you as an MP in the current party of government with two pleas on that basis.
Given the current events in Ukraine, which demonstrates the end point of political corruption – the unaccountable actions of a Russian government based wholly on criminality and cronyism, in the hands of one individual beyond any systems of checks and balances – my points are profound ones and I urge you to take the time to read and understand them. To the intern or researcher who receives this email, pass it up the line. This isn’t a communication containing vitriol or rants; it is measured, respectful and deadly serious.
My pleas are as follows, and the text below outlines in brief some of the matters of record that inform them.
1. Gavin Williamson must be stripped of his knighthood.
2. Boris Johnson must be removed from office whenever the immediate emergency in Europe diminishes in intensity, in the interests of parliamentary democracy, public trust in politics and basic decency (and, if those incentives fail, in your own self-interest as an MP).
Regarding Williamson, the Queen was put in the shameful position of rubber-stamping a knighthood to a man whose record in public life is one of incompetence, damage, opprobrium and unresolved question marks about National Security leaking. I view the honours system as deeply flawed, but this is a bridge too far. It is a reward for failure and, disgracefully, it has been announced during a global crisis – an attempt to ‘bury bad news’ that has deceived no one. The Times (5/3/22) quotes off-record Downing Street officials acknowledging that this honour is ‘indefensible’ and ‘corrupt’. You will be aware of much other reporting and social media commentary on the matter. This disgraces not only Johnson, a momentary figure in the history of the Conservative Party, but the Party as a whole. You will have an interest in defending the latter.
Regarding Johnson, he is a threat to democracy. The kind of let’s-see-if-we-get-away-with-it jolly japes and games-playing that have defined his life and seemingly entertained voters and colleagues in better times become, at a tipping point (already passed), not only tiresome but actively dangerous – the first steps on the path to a criminal government like that of Putin. I am deadly serious about this. Small corruption leads to bigger corruption and ultimately to mass murder.
We all accept the realpolitik compromise that lying and self-interest are part and parcel of politics in a democratic society – you will know this to be true and you will, of course, like every politician, never admit it to be the case. That’s the game we all play – politicians, the media, the public. Every so often, someone crosses a line that the public regard as too far and leaves politics under a cloud or goes to prison. Johnson, however, has been playing a game of attrition with integrity in public office during his tenure as Prime Minister, pushing that line time and time again and somehow remaining in office – using chaos, misdirection and flag-waving for this or that cause-of-the-moment to justify his by-passing or attempted by-passing of rules and conventions and, very possibly, laws.
I will highlight, briefly, a handful of incidents to substantiate this:
September 2019 – Johnson prorogues Parliament unlawfully and, chillingly, tries to make the case that his party-political wishes as a temporary Prime Minister override the bulwark of an independent judiciary and the scrutiny of parliament. Thank God for the Supreme Court.
May 2020 – Dominic Cummings, a senior unelected figure in Johnson’s government, gives a press conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street (the heart of British government) about his rule-breaking lockdown trip to Barnard Castle based, we now know, entirely on lies. A torrent of brazen, disgraceful lies. Johnson sanctioned this press conference and, I have no doubt, knew that its purpose was to peddle lies. By not sacking Cummings, public compliance with public health advice was seriously diminished. Not for the first or last time, Johnson put loyalty to a crony ahead of the public good. Once lost, how is public trust regained?
October 2021 – the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found Owen Paterson to have ‘brought the House into disrepute’ with his unprecedented levels of lobbying for commercial gain and the Commons Select Committee for Standards gave him a three-month suspension. On 3 November, the most disgraceful debate in the House of Commons for decades took place, in which a three-line whip was used by Johnson to try and strike out those judgements, replace the Commissioner and retrofit new rules to Paterson’s case. This was an affront to democracy. Truly, it is a small step from that behaviour to the fascist regime in Moscow.
January 2022 – Lord Agnew, Minister of State for Efficiency, resigned during a speech in the House of Lords over the ‘arrogance, indolence and ignorance’ of the government, specifically citing the multi-billion-pound misuse of public money during the Covid crisis. The sickening misuse of public money – tens of millions to middlemen and cronies of Ministers in PPE procurement and fraudulent grants to businesses – is not something that the public will forget. It will be the subject of books and documentaries in years to come, and those responsible will be shamed and shamed again. History will judge the Johnson government as one defined by corruption and incompetence.
‘Partygate’ – it is clear from Sue Gray’s largely stymied report that Johnson presided over a culture of partying in Downing Street during periods in which the British public were obeying the lockdown rules emanating from government, with many whose loved ones died alone as a consequence. The public will never forget this. This is not a trivial issue in itself, yet more disturbing still were the weeks of lies and obfuscations from Johnson about whether any such events even happened. Johnson may or may not be found guilty of attending any of these parties, but it was his house, his government, his office culture. He is wholly responsible. Is the loss of public trust and explosion of anger from rules-/law-abiding people really worth it for this?
I could talk about Johnson’s long record of lies and disreputable behaviour – from the Darius Guppy incident in 1990, when he was implicated in assisting in a journalist being beaten up by Guppy, to the business of his obscenely-priced wallpaper and the provenance of its funding. The pattern is evident to a child.
People are tired. We all – you, me, the media, the public at large – know that he is a man with no ideology, no moral core, driven purely by a need for personal popularity and a pathetic childhood wish to be ‘world king’. The current crisis gives him an international stage on which to play out his Churchill fantasy, but his place in history is already assured: it will be one based on a catalogue of contemptuous actions for ultimately personal gain, one giant game with him rolling his dice and hoping for the best while public trust and moral values collapse around him.
If you have any self-respect and any regard for at least some residual level of integrity in public life and values based on decency and fair play, you will send a letter to Sir Graham Brady and get rid of this man. He does not deserve to be in public office, and he will not win you the next election – you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that. You know it. Cut him loose to revive his clown act on the public speaking circuit, buy as much over-priced wallpaper as he wants and father as many children as his ego demands. He is blight on the face of public life.
Most Conservative Party MPs currently will wish to be re-elected. Whether you are motivated by my argument for a retrieval of some level of integrity in public life or whether you simply see the way the wind is blowing and want to move on from a liability to your future career plans, I don’t care. The outcome will be the same. I urge you to do the right thing and get rid of him.