The faults in the Tory party were on show for all to see today, as MPs were forced to debate No 10’s efforts to block Owen Paterson’s suspension from the Commons. Ministers had hoped to quietly u-turn on their efforts to overhaul the standards system but following Sir Chris Chope’s last minute intervention, a very public debate played out in public today.
Members on both sides of the aisle queued up to savage the government’s handling of the case. Shadow Commons leader Thangham Debbonaire attacked the ‘total absence of leadership we have seen from this sorry government over this sorry affair’ while her SNP counterpart Pete Wishart noted how ‘public trust’ in Boris Johnson was ‘at an all time low’ with Tory MPs facing inboxes ‘swamped with furious constituents.’
And it was from those same Tory benches that the most stinging criticism of the government was made. Theresa May lambasted her successor’s handling of the episode, criticising the ‘damage [which] has been done to all members of Parliament and to Parliament as a whole.’ She said the efforts to block Paterson’s suspension were ‘misplaced, ill-judged and just plain wrong’ and that No. 10 had ‘aided and abetted’ such attempts to clear his name.
While some in Downing Street have grown accustomed to such attacks by the Member for Maidenhead, it will be those younger members, elected in 2019, who will be causing them more concern. One crucial flashpoint was newbie Alicia Kearns asking Chope why he had decided to force another’s debate on the issue; the grandee’s response that Kearns ‘hasn’t applied her mind’ has gone down very badly with her Red Wall colleagues, nervously keeping one eye on the polls.
After a fortnight of fighting between the ‘oiks’ and ‘toffs,’ ‘officers’ and ‘infantry,’ old guard and new, will these divides in Tory politicis be a temporary blip – or a permanent faultine feature?
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