This row has seriously threatened the Tories’ reputation. The longer it drags on, the longer the government are likely to suffer in the polls.
What sleaze row?
The phrase “Tory sleaze” has been seen in newspaper headlines across the country in recent weeks.
It all began when the government whipped Tory MPs to vote against a 30-day suspension for fellow Conservative MP Owen Paterson – the punishment recommended by the MPs’ watchdog after Paterson was found guilty of breaching parliamentary lobbying rules for his second job.
While Paterson was initially let off, the extensive public backlash saw Downing Street hastily retreat the following day and withdraw its backing for Paterson.
He then resigned, but the damage to the government’s reputation was done, after it tried to skew the disciplinary process for MPs.
Further revelations about MPs and their second jobs – revealing their lax commitment to the Commons – followed. Johnson even used his COP26 platform to tell world leaders and the press that the UK was not corrupt as the sleaze reports dominated the news cycle.
What happened on Monday night?
The prime minister attempted to put the whole row to bed on Monday as the Commons prepared to vote on scraping the Leadsom amendment to the MPs’ watchdog – meaning Paterson’s punishment would then have been valid if he was still working as an MP.
However, Christchurch MP Sir Christopher Chope shouted “object” in the Commons when the motion to drop the Leadsom amendment was put forward – infuriating many of his colleagues who wanted to move past this era.
Chope’s call allegedly left deputy speaker Nigel Evans visibly taken aback.
The Commons will now have to debate the provision on Tuesday, prolonging the concerns about sleaze in parliament.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, said the Commons would “fall into further disrepute” if it does not bring the motion forward “as soon as possible with proper time allocated”.
The SNP’s shadow Commons leader Peter Wishart said Monday night had ended in “misery and failure”.
He added: “That all went badly wrong when Christopher Chope piped up to object.”
Who is Sir Christopher Chope?
He pushed back on the global women’s conference in the Commons and the attempt to pardon famous codebreaker Alan Turing after his homosexuality conviction.
He does not necessarily disagree with these content of the bills but claims he wants every motion to be debated in Parliament.
He told the Daily Echo that it was “extremely important” that the subject of the Leadsom amendment should be properly examined.
This will mean the Conservatives will face renewed embarrassment over the sleaze allegations.
Still, Chope said: “All I have done is ensure we have a debate and that is what we are having later today.
“We are having a one-hour debate on the issue which is whether or not we should rescind a resolution which was passed on November 3 and my view is that we shouldn’t operate in this country by government decree.
“If the House of Commons has voted on a provision, we should have a proper debate and an explanation from the government as to why we wish to rescind.”
He added: “There was sort of a cosying up together of people to try and suppress any public discussion or need for the government to explain itself on this issue.”
Why does it matter if the row goes on?
Leading rightwing newspapers such as The Daily Mail and The Daily Express also started to hit out at the government over the sleaze accusations.
The Express called for the prime minister to apologise for the chaos and for trying to undo the MPs’ watchdog system, while the Mail continued to unearth further questionable behaviour from Conservative MPs – including leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Every living former cabinet secretary has called on the prime minister to strengthen the standards rules for ministers so people could no longer cheat the system.
Chope might get the chop
Tories are not happy with Chope’s objection, with ministerial aides allegedly describing the MP using a range of explicit words over private WhatsApp messages seen by The Guardian.
Chope has a majority of approximately 25,000 in his constituency and has not shown any sign of quitting.
But a minister told the Guardian that the “executive are livid” and that his should “retire”. They claimed: “The question is whether Chope’s implosion will be shorter or longer than Paterson’s.”