Here’s a great example of Tory corruption: the independent advisor on ministerial standards has announced that Health Secretary Matt Hancock has breached the ministerial code. It’s a sacking offence, so why does he still have his job?
Answer: because standards have slipped to such a low standard under prime minister Boris Johnson that cabinet ministers can get away with anything.
This case concerns a firm called Topwood, run by Hancock’s sister and brother-in-law. It managed to get onto NHS Shared Business Services framework in 2019, just months after Hancock became Health Secretary.
Hancock was then given – it seems he didn’t pay for them – a 20 per cent share in the shredding, storage and security firm, right before it won two NHS Wales contracts worth £150,000 each to carry out waste disposal including the shredding of confidential documents.
His failure to disclose that he has shares in the firm was described as a “technical breach” of the ministerial code by Lord Geidt – who has also given Boris Johnson a clean bill of health over the funding of refurbishment work on the 11 Downing Street flat.
Hancock was characterised as having been unaware that he needed to declare this conflict of interest. But ignorance of the law is no excuse – as you or I would soon find out if we were to fall foul of similar rules.
You see the problem?
Labour’s Angela Rayner does. She has pointed out that the decision not to penalise Hancock sets a precedent that cabinet ministers do not have to follow the rules.
“I have asked Lord Geidt whether he agrees that this precedent of a Cabinet minister being found by an independent investigation to have broken the ministerial code and then not resigning sends a very clear message that the rules don’t apply to Cabinet ministers, with this case therefore damaging public trust in our politics, fundamentally weakening the ministerial code system and giving carte blanche to other ministers to break the ministerial code safe in the knowledge that they will not face sanctions.”
In fact, this has already happened.
Priti Patel was found to have broken the ministerial code in a serious way – she had been bullying civil servants in the various government departments she has darkened with her presence, including the Home Office.
But prime minister Boris Johnson, who has ultimate power to decide whether a breach has taken place, let her off.
The decision prompted former independent advisor on ministerial standards, Sir Alex Allan, to resign.
The Cabinet Office has tried to laugh off the controversy by saying that new guidelines suggest that ministerial code breaches should be attract a range of different sanctions according to their seriousness, and this was the first case to be examined after the change.
All this shows is that the Johnson government has deliberately let the corruption in.
The removal of a minister after any breach of the code at all was intended to be a strong deterrent – to ensure that ministers stuck strictly to their duties, because even the slightest deviation would attract the harshest penalty.
But now deviants like Hancock are being told they can do what they like.
It is a scandal and you should not put up with it.
But you do, because there is no mechanism within the law by which you can put a stop to it.
Now, who do you think put that system in place?
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