Is this sour grapes from MPs who fear … second-class treatment (gosh)?
Opposition MPs led by Labour’s Karl Turner have demanded that Boris Johnson pay back £245,000 of public money the government provided to pay lawyers acting for him in the Partygate Inquiry.
The Cabinet Office decided to cover Johnson’s legal costs for the inquiry last year, when he was still prime minister, and has tried to justify the decision by claiming there is a precedent for supporting former ministers with legal representation.
There’s just one snag: the government has not been able to name a single example of a former minister receiving taxpayer-funded legal support for a parliamentary inquiry.
On the other hand…
The BBC has spoken to two former ministers who were investigated by MPs for misleading Parliament and were not given legal support.
The former Labour MP and transport secretary, Stephen Byers, was not offered legal support when he faced a four-month inquiry in 2005.
Nor was the former Labour MP and paymaster general, Geoffrey Robinson, who was found to have “inadvertently” misled MPs in 2001.
So it seems Johnson has been given preferential treatment – and this has created a precedent.
Mr Turner reckons it means there is now a two-tier system: ministers and former ministers receive legal support to fight parliamentary inquiries, and backbench MPs do not.
He said it created a system that unfairly advantages ministers and former ministers who get their excessively large bills paid using public money, while backbenchers have to pay their own way.
The unfairness is heightened by the fact that Johnson is a multi-millionaire who is perfectly capable of paying his own legal bills – even when employing top public lawyers. Many backbenchers have fewer resources and such bills would put the same kind of legal help beyond their means.
You’d think this would remind some MPs of the way things are outside Westminster, wouldn’t you?
The UK has millions of people who can’t afford to eat a decent meal every day. The government could change that… but instead the only major changes to the system have provided the already-rich with more, and made it possible for them to suck money out of the masses.
So Tory MPs in particular are between a rock and a hard place here.
They can block the motion – showing they believe a small elite deserve the best, most expensive support they can get, all at the expense of the general public, just as is true in the country at large, with the poverty-stricken masses supporting the rich.
Or they can support it and make hypocrites of themselves, because they would be supporting the principle that everybody deserves the same chance and the rich don’t deserve more advantages than they already have.
Let’s hear them talk their way out of that one!
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