Yesterday at lunchtime in the House of Commons there were several statements being made about the concept of Independence and it would appear that there are some gaps between the views of the people who made the statements and the concept of the phrase. The first point came from Mr Johnson who is our Prime Minister who was participating in the Engagements section of Parliament which is also referred to as Prime Ministers Questions. The first few words from Mr Johnson and one of his colleagues in the same political party and indeed Mr Starmer who is the leader of the Labour Party were relating to some of their colleagues who have passed away in the last few days along with a brief question and answer about sewage flowing into rivers. Perhaps that set the context in the thinking of the politicians in an odd way. At the end of the first comment from Mr Starmer on the reference to the deaths rather than the sewage, he then raised this question
Does the Prime Minister believe that the current lobbying rules are fit for purpose?
The response was
I join the right hon. and learned Gentleman in what he said about Ian Gibson. I share the widespread concern about some of the stuff we are reading at the moment, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary shares my concern as well. I do think it is a good idea in principle that top civil servants should be able to engage with business and should have experience of the private sector. When I look at the accounts I am reading today, it is not clear that those boundaries have been properly understood. I have asked for a proper independent review of the arrangements that we have, to be conducted by Nigel Boardman, and he will be reporting in June. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any representations he wishes to make on the subject, he should do so to Mr Boardman.
They then had another question and answer which can be found from here and then the third question from Mr Starmer was
The Prime Minister talks of the lobbying Act. Who was it who introduced that legislation? David Cameron. Who was it who voted for the legislation? Half the Conservative Front Bench. We said that it would not be tough enough, and where did that legislation lead? Two years later, David Cameron camping out in a Saudi desert with Lex Greensill, having a cup of tea. I rest my case in relation to that legislation. Let me try another very simple question. Is the Prime Minister aware of any other Government official who had commercial links with Greensill or any other lobbying role while working in Government?
The photo above was taken during the Saudi visit with Lex Greensill and David Cameron and the response from Johnson was
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any such information, he should of course make it available to Mr Boardman; that is the point of his review. It is an independent review. It will be coming to me by June, and it will be laid in the Library of the House of Commons. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about lobbying. He is being advised by Lord Mandelson of Global Counsel. Perhaps in the interests of full transparency, so that we can know where he is coming from, Lord Mandelson could be encouraged to disclose his other clients.
Now of course we can hope that the review will be able to focus on some of the details but let us focus on how independent Nigel Boardman will be. Perhaps a definition of the adjective of Independence will be helpful, this one comes from the Cambridge Dictionary
Another question that comes from Starmer as part of their supposed question and answer approach is
This afternoon, Labour’s motion calls for a proper parliamentary inquiry into the scandal. If the Prime Minister is so concerned about this, he should welcome the motion. After all, to quote David Cameron, his old school friend: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”. So, will the Prime Minister vote with Labour today for a full, transparent, independent inquiry?
Although he attempts one more time there is no answer and indeed the Speaker then states “Order. Prime Minister, I think we ought to at least try and address the question.” but sadly that does not occur. A few minutes later however there is the Labour motion. Inevitably it lacks enough votes to win and gets 262 people voting for it and 357 voting against it. However it was introduced by Rachel Reeves and one of the comments she makes during her introduction is
It is a fact that Nigel Boardman is a good friend—a very good friend—of the Conservative Government. Some may suspect that the son of a former Conservative Cabinet Minister might be unlikely to make waves, but let us look at his record. Mr Boardman has been paid over £20,000 per year as a non-executive director at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—a Department with a real interest in the British Business Bank, which lent to Greensill, and the British steel industry, where so many jobs are now at risk. Mr Boardman has already whitewashed the Government’s handling of public procurement during the pandemic and I fear that he will do the same again with this inquiry.
You will remember, Mr Speaker, that I jointly chaired the inquiry into the collapse of Carillion. The fact that Mr Boardman’s law firm made £8 million advising Carillion, including £1 million on the day before the outsourcers collapsed, leaves a terrible taste in my mouth as it should in the mouths of Members on the Government Benches. To cap it all, Mr Boardman was appointed to a prestigious role at the British Museum by—oh, by David Cameron! What is being proposed by the Government is not remotely fit for purpose. It is not an inquiry. It is not independent. It is an insult to us all.
And then a few seconds later there is a reference to another person
Sir Alex Allan resigned as independent adviser on ministerial interests following the Prime Minister’s failure to take action on the Home Secretary’s bullying behaviour. That was five months ago. The Government have not replaced him. They have not even advertised the job. What does that say about how seriously this Government take standards?
It is clear that what we need is some way of breaking into Parliament that avoids party politics as a response comes to this comment from Bernard Jenkin
I just point out that, when Gordon Brown appointed his Prime Minister’s adviser on ministerial interests, that job was not advertised either because it is not advertised; it is a prime ministerial appointment.
Clearly what is needed is a way to deal with the Greensill issue and indeed many others, but if it is party politics that determines it, there will be a great deal of conflict and not any real Independent approach.