David Linden – 2022 Speech on the Resignation of Lord Geidt

The speech made by David Linden, the SNP MP for Glasgow East, in the House of Commons on 21 June 2022.

When the lawyers are out in force on the Government Benches—with all the references to learned and right hon. and learned Members—you can tell that the Government find themselves in a bit of a sticky situation. I have a degree of sympathy with the Paymaster General, who, if he is not the Minister for “Newsnight”, is definitely the Minister for crisis who has to make statements and answer urgent questions in the House.

We all know that the Prime Minister likes to compare himself to Churchill. On one of his recent holidays, he posed while painting in the exact same way as Winston Churchill. People can compare this Prime Minister to a number of things, but in style of government he is probably more like Lloyd George, who was arguably one of the most centralising Prime Ministers. Many people will be familiar with the garden suburb—these days, they call it the flat suburb, but at least the flat has much nicer wallpaper!

The garden suburb aroused particular hostility, even more so than the activity of Sir William Sutherland and undercover deals with the press and trafficking of titles and honours in return for contributions to Government or party funds. It is funny how history reinvents itself. Critics have also quoted Dunning’s famous resolution against Lord North’s Government in 1780 that the power of the Prime Minister was “increasing and ought to be diminished”. That gets to the heart of the debate, which is symptomatic of a wider presidentialisation of government. To be fair to the current British Government, this is not new—Tony Blair, for example, was keen on sofa government, and there is the idea that Cabinet government started to break down.

One reason why the House feels the need to step in and take control of the situation is that the current Prime Minister is like no one we have dealt with before. Most of us would accept that he has been described by his own colleagues as a bit of a slippery pig that can get out of situations. I do not doubt that, and I would not be surprised if the Prime Minister survives and leads the Conservatives into the next election. There is a great irony, which I will come back to at the end of my remarks, about our reliance on Tory MPs to remove him. This is a Prime Minister who has not played by the rules; perhaps learning from the effects of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, he has tried to clip the wings even of the Treasury. The desire to centralise more and more power to No. 10 was the reason the right hon. Friend Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) stood down as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is something that the House should be mindful of.

The Tories would do well to support the motion. I see this as an issue not of tinkering with the constitution but fundamentally as one of House business. The motion delegates powers and tasks to a Select Committee of the House. I know very well the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) and had the privilege of serving on a Committee with him in my first Parliament. I will have no difficulty trusting the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to fulfil these functions. In many respects, the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) is dancing on the head of a pin somewhat, because he knows fine well that the Minister has not given the undertaking that the Government will move—

John Penrose

I thought I heard it. The hon. Gentleman might not have heard it, but with any luck we will both hear clarification later.

David Linden

I respect the Paymaster General enormously but it will take a lot for him to reassure me about the Government’s role on ethics.

When I asked the Paymaster General earlier to define “in due course”, he was not able to say that the appointment would take place by the summer recess or the conference recess. We might—who knows—have a general election in October. I would not be surprised if the Government ended up not appointing an adviser. As they have said before, they are tired of experts. I think they see the role of an adviser as a hindrance, particularly at a time when they will almost certainly have to break international law, albeit in a “very specific and limited way” as the Government like to do in their legislation.

I find some of the contributions I have listened to in this debate a little jarring, with people talking about accountability and respecting the importance of democracy. Let us not forget that this Government have increasingly taken recently to appointing people who are essentially failed election candidates to the House of Lords.

Look at someone such as Malcolm Offord, now Lord Offord, who is now a junior Minister in the anti-Scotland Office. He has given money to the Conservative party, he has not had to have the inconvenience of going through an election and was appointed as a junior Minister to the Scotland Office. Or there is Ian Duncan, a former Tory candidate against my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). He could not beat my hon. Friend in an election, but he got into the House of Lords anyway. Zac Goldsmith, a friend of the Prime Minister and his wife, who failed in the last election to be elected to this House is in the House of Lords as a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister. When the Tories start to talk about accountability, we should be slightly aware of the context, because it is not a particularly good one.

I have one suggestion I want to pursue. The Government seem to think that the way out of this is talking about an office of the Prime Minister. That is a half-baked suggestion. I do not disagree with having an office of the Prime Minister, but if we are going to have one, they should have something akin to what they have in New Zealand. At the moment, the office of the Prime Minister is merely a rebuttal in a press release; it will create a new office with a new permanent secretary, but who will it be accountable to?

We in this place trust that the Prime Minister is accountable every now and again to the Liaison Committee, but we all know that the Liaison Committee, with the greatest of respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire on the Front Bench and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), is largely an opportunity for Select Committee Chairs to grandstand. If we are going to have an office of the Prime Minister, there must be a mechanism through which we can hold it to account. That is why I think the idea is half baked.

Mr Carmichael

In terms of accountability, does the hon. Gentleman agree that where an allegation of impropriety is made against a Minister and is investigated, as a matter of principle the outcome of that investigation, whatever it is, should be published?

David Linden

In short, yes I do.

The final point I want to make is that, while in many respects this is a very noble motion before the House and I will happily vote for it tonight, there must be a realisation in this place that with the current holder of the office of Prime Minister, politics has changed enormously, and we as Members of the House of Commons are going to have to get used to that. This is a Prime Minister who has defied all the norms of politics, who has now outlived Trump and may go even further.

I ask Members of this House to remember who the current Prime Minister is. I know I cannot refer to him by name, but on issues of racism he wrote:

“It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies”.

In 2018, he compared Muslim women to “bank robbers” and “letter boxes” and said he would ask a person with a niqab to remove it before speaking to him. He wrote that single mothers were to blame for producing a generation of,

“ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate children”.

In 2002 he said in a book:

“If gay marriage was OK…I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog.”

The point is that this Government can have all the advisers on ethics they like, but I am fairly sure that if another one is appointed, they will have to resign again. The issue here is not necessarily the role of an adviser for ethics; the issue is that we have a Prime Minister who has no ethics.

We find ourselves in a remarkable situation where, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) just mentioned, a majority of people in this House do not have confidence in the Prime Minister. Remarkably, members of my party are told we cannot have a second referendum on independence, but for hon. Members on the Conservative Benches, the only opportunity they have to remove the Prime Minister is a second vote in a year’s time. That irony is lost on nobody.