The Clean-Up Starts Here
On the 12th May 2010, the Prime Minister and his Deputy stood amongst the roses in the garden of Number 10 and made a series of promises. There was a mixed reception – welcomed by some, treated with caution by many, rejected by others – depending on one’s ideological placement, political affiliation, economic agenda and vested interests. All except one: the promise to “clean-up politics”. Here was the one item on the agenda where all could unite, in hope or expectation.
Yesterday, during Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron accused Ed Miliband of misleading the House on NHS waiting times. John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, immediately interrupted, asking him to withdraw his remark. Cameron did not.
I cannot overemphasise the importance of this. Not misleading Parliament is a fundamental rule, breach of which by a minister is expected to lead to a resignation (see Rule 2 on Ministerial Accountability). Further, under the House of Commons Code of Conduct, members are expected to behave in a way which will “maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament” (see Rule 15, Code of Conduct). As I write this, the Speaker of the House is giving a speech on improving the public’s perception of Parliament.
How can we clean up politics if the Prime Minister of the day cannot be truthful for 30 minutes of 30 weeks in the year? This is at the heart of everything that is wrong with the political process. The public’s distrust of politicians and apathy to politics flows directly from it. This is the highest elected representative openly disrespecting the legislature, the voters and democracy itself.
The media appears to be shrugging its shoulders, apparently immune to this casual dishonesty. So, here is what I will do about it:
Every Thursday, I will write a blog pointing out glaring instances of the PM misleading the House during PMQs. If you think I have got it wrong, feel free to use the “comment” function on this blog and point out why. If you have spotted additional instances, again, do likewise.
Every Monday, I will write to the Speaker of the House pointing these inaccuracies out, explaining why I feel they flout the rules and asking him to pick up the PM on them or explain why he thinks they do not. I will copy this letter to the Prime Minister’s office and the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
With your help in spreading this message, we will be heard.
Prime Minister’s Questions – 8 June 2011
1.1 Questioned about his government’s reforms on sentencing David Cameron stated:
“One response to the consultation paper came from the shadow Justice Secretary, the man sitting next to him, who said that it is “a perfectly sensible vision for a sentencing policy, entirely in keeping with the emphasis on punishment and reform that Labour followed in government”. Why the sudden U-turn?” [Hansard link]
1.2 Sadiq Khan, the MP in question, had actually made that statement on 7 December 2010 is response to the Ministry of Justice’s mission statement – not on the consultation paper. This is what he said:
“The Ministry of Justice’s four-year plan on its vision page declares “We will provide a clear sentencing framework. It will punish those who break the law, and help reduce re-offending.” I have no quarrel with that. It seems to me a perfectly sensible vision for a sentencing policy, entirely in keeping with the emphasis on punishment and reform that Labour followed in government…” He went on to add: “However, the statement that we have just heard and the Green Paper give rise to a number of questions and concerns.” [Hansard Link]
1.3 The Prime Minister’s assertion that Mr Khan’s statement was made in “response to the consultation paper” is patently inaccurate. The intention and effect of this inaccuracy is to ascribe to Mr Khan a position quite contrary to the one he held. It is, therefore, submitted that the Prime Minister knowingly misled the House on this matter.
2.1 Questioned about his government’s Health Service reforms The Prime Minister stated:
“I have to say again that there has been widespread support for the review of our health plans, not least from the man sitting four down from the right hon. Gentleman, the shadow Health Secretary—I know I often quote him—who said that “looking at the evidence of what works, listening hard to those who know the NHS and learning from the views they get…is not rocket science. It’s simply good government”. What the right hon. Gentleman calls a shambles, his shadow Health Secretary calls good government.” [Hansard link]
2.2 This is what John Healy, the MP in question, actually said in his speech to the Royal Society of Medicine on the 26th May:
“In the 9 weeks’ ‘pause’ the government is doing what it should have been doing for the 9 months before – looking at the evidence of what works, listening hard to those who know the NHS and learning from the views they get. This is not rocket science. It’s simply good government and it’s good politics. Both have been totally absent in the health department since last May.” He added: “The principles of good public policy are consult first, legislate second and implement third. This proper order has been reversed with the NHS reorganisation.” [full text of the speech]
2.3 The Prime Minister’s assertion that Mr Healy’s statement was part of “widespread support for the review” is patently inaccurate. The intention and effect of this inaccuracy, and of the selective editing of the quotation, is to ascribe to Mr Healy a position diametrically opposed to the one he held. It is, therefore, submitted that the Prime Minister knowingly misled the House on this matter.