Magazine article The Spectator

For Mr Blair, Morality Is a Platform Affectation; Ethics Are Whatever He Can Get Away With

Magazine article The Spectator

For Mr Blair, Morality Is a Platform Affectation; Ethics Are Whatever He Can Get Away With

Article excerpt

Over the past few days, the Prime Minister has behaved disgracefully. He has defended ministers who are guilty of lying and corruption and who have treated Parliament with contempt. In both the Lords and the Commons, he has encouraged the violation of the rules of procedure.

Robin Cook is not as culpable as either Keith Vaz or Tony Blair. Mr Cook prevaricated under pressure, not after malice aforethought; ministers have told worse lies in Parliament. But lying to the Commons is a hanging offence. Robin Cook is not fit to remain in office.

Mr Vaz's behaviour has been scandalous, and was premeditated. He and his friends set out to prevent Elizabeth Filkin from to completing her enquiries. Even if Mr Vaz were innocent of all the charges against him - in which case his behaviour would be incomprehensible - he ought to be sacked on the spot for the way he has behaved towards Mrs Filkin. Keith Vaz has displayed contempt for Mrs Filkin, contempt for Parliament, contempt for public life and contempt for democracy. He is not fit to be a minister; he is not fit to be in Parliament. There is a challenge worthy of Martin Bell. Instead of persecuting holy rollers in Brentwood, Mr Bell should give Mr Vaz's constituents the chance to prove that they know what should be required from a MP, even if Keith Vaz does not.

Mr Vaz has no concept of the standards which sustain British politics; nor has Tony Blair. By retaining Keith Vaz in office, Mr Blair has condoned his behaviour and become his accomplice. There are rumours that Mr Vaz will not be reappointed after the election, but that is not enough. He ought to have been dismissed instantly, as he would have been by any previous Prime Minister, with the possible exception of Harold Wilson in his lavender list phase. If Mr Blair wants to dispute the late Lord Wilson's claim to be foremost in political immorality, he is going the right way about it by retaining Mr Vaz's services, and at least Harold Wilson had no cant of morality. For Mr Blair, morality is a mere platform affectation. Ethics are whatever he can get away with. Standards are a means of smearing the Tories; they were never meant to apply to a Blair government. `Power tends to corrupt,' said Lord Acton. In modern British history, that process has never occurred so rapidly.

Late on Monday evening, after a brief debate cunningly timed in the hope that no one would notice, the government forced through a motion decreeing that an incomplete committee stage had in fact been completed. Even Speaker Martin observed that the motion was 'unprecedented', but with this Speaker, it is a miracle that he can pronounce that word. It would be absurd to expect him to follow the logic of his observation and to use his authority to protect Commons procedure from majoritarian abuse. That was not why he was chosen. Labour MPs wanted a pliant mediocrity. They have found one.

On Tuesday, the government rammed through another motion, this time in the Lords. It was a coup for the government's business managers in the Lords, who managed to entice large numbers of Tony's ennobled cronies into voting to pervert the working of a House which they have never tried to understand. The House of Lords runs its own debates with a minimum of procedure, but there is an understanding that peers who want to speak should be able to do so. The corollary is that peers only speak when they have something to say. In the Commons, Whips who find themselves running short of speakers will conscript some passing MP to talk for ten minutes on a subject about which he knows nothing and cares less; thus are ministerial ambitions nurtured. …

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