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  Opinion   Columnists  07 Nov 2021  Kishwar Desai | Patterson row showed power of press, forced Boris to retreat

Kishwar Desai | Patterson row showed power of press, forced Boris to retreat

Kishwar Desai, is the chair of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, which is setting up the Partition Museum at Town Hall, Amritsar.
Published : Nov 7, 2021, 11:55 pm IST
Updated : Nov 7, 2021, 11:55 pm IST

The sharp reaction has shown that no matter how popular the PM, the British people will not take corrupt conduct from their MPs

 Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (AP)
  Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (AP)

COP26 came to an end, just as people around the world began to wish each other a “Happy Diwali”! In recent years the festival of lights has become a hot favourite with leaders who have an Indian community to woo, and why not? It is all about “ Lights! Fireworks! Action!”

Besides, the triumph of good over evil is a universal theme the festival celebrates, which has so many connotations.

 

One such real-life drama is ongoing in Parliament, wherein for the first time there may be serious consequences for the teflon coated Boris Johnson government.

Well, not that there have not been accusations of corruption before, a more or less constant theme haunting the present Tory government. One is reminded of the second term of the UPA regime in India! How much of this is actually true — and how much media related perception is something we can always wonder about, but the headlines and opinion polls are not looking very encouraging for the Tories.

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At the heart of the storm is Owen Patterson, a senior Conservative MP, a former Cabinet Minister, who was found guilty of misusing his position by lobbying for a company which was paying him. He was found to have approached ministers and their officials to do favours for the company which paid him around £100,000. Hmmmmm, didn’t we hear of David Cameron, former PM, lobbying for a firm he was associated with, some time back?

 

A committee of MPs, which regularly examines the conduct of MPs, found Patterson guilty. This meant he would be suspended for seventy days, which would have given time enough for voters in his constituency to call for a by-election. Faced with this prospect, his friends rallied round. More so because there was a tragedy associated with these accusations of sleaze: his wife had committed suicide as she could not face the strain of the inquiries, it was said.

So last Wednesday, they introduced an amendment when the report of the committee was brought to the House of Commons. The amendment proposed rejecting the report. It also replaced the committee probing the allegation by a new one with a chairman from the Conservative Party with a majority of Conservative MPs. The Opposition parties refused to agree.

 

The government issued a three Line Whip which meant comply or face the threat of deselection at the next election or lose a job in the government if you have one. Despite this, one third of Tory MPs voted against and some abstained. The government won by a narrow majority of 18 when their true majority is 80 plus. Owen Patterson was triumphant.

But the press headlines next day were angry. This move was denounced. Sleaze was the word in many headlines. Even Tory-friendly tabloids had nothing but abuse —especially for the top echelons of government.

There was no choice but to retreat. The very next day the government moved to withdraw its amendment and restored the suspension of Patterson. He resigned as MP immediately. Boris Johnson lost face while hundreds of foreign leaders, businessmen, young radicals were still here for the Glasgow Climate Change Conference.

 

The sharp reaction has shown that no matter how popular the Prime Minister and how large his majority, the British people will not take corrupt conduct from their MPs. Social media may be powerful, but in this case, it was the old fashioned “print” press which sent a clear unanimous message.

Even so, ‘Happy Diwali’ were the first words uttered by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP in charge of parliamentary business, when he got up to eat humble pie last week. The House of Commons is now diverse enough to embrace various cultures and celebrate all festivals — Baisakhi, Ramadan, Diwali and even Christmas.

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The intolerance of racism continues to take its toll, as the UK changes. The Yorkshire cricket club, whose Headingley ground is like a pilgrimage for cricket lovers, has just been disqualified from staging international cricket matches. It all arose when a young player of Pakistani origin, complained that he was called P***. (More than two decades ago, as an Indian I was doubly affronted when I was called “P***” on the London streets but at that time, it was unusual if you weren’t abused.)

 

This time, too, the complaint was examined but dismissed as banter. Then another young Muslim player complained. The White player responsible has now been disqualified. Yorkshire cricket club has faced resignations from the chairman and many members of the board. Businesses have withdrawn sponsorships. Just last week, Lord Kamalesh Patel, a Labour Peer, cricketer, once chosen as Yorkshireman of the Year, has been selected to chair Yorkshire cricket to restore its reputation.

...Similarly perhaps Boris Johnson needs a rescue mission and the climate to change urgently in his favour!

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