Margaret Hodge – 2022 Speech in the No Confidence in the Government Motion

The speech made by Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking, in the House of Commons on 18 July 2022.

The right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is right that these confidence motions can descend into pointless political attacks, but the reality is that this Government and this Prime Minister, and what they have done, make us oppose today’s motion, which is fundamental for anybody who wants to uphold democracy, defend integrity and restore trust.

It is not just about partygate, dreadful though that was, nor the failed attempt to defend the indefensible behaviour of Owen Paterson, nor the abhorrent culture of tolerating bullying and sexual harassment from political allies; these contribute to a loss of confidence, but they do not stand alone. There is also the endless list of incompetence and waste—taxpayers’ money being tossed around like confetti, with £16 billion fraudulently squandered on covid business support. There are the shameful failures in ambulance waiting times, 6 million citizens waiting for hospital treatment, people unable to travel because of the crippling delays at the Passport Office, and a stream of rail strikes and chaos at the airports.

All that is unforgivable, but it is the creeping culture of corruption and the determination to close down those whose job it is to keep a check on Executive power that makes this Government unfit for office. There is a growing body of evidence of corruption: dodgy Russian money funding MPs and the Tory party; an explosion in illicit finance, with Londongrad now the international capital for dirty money; peerages for pals like Cruddas and Lebedev; jobs for mates, from those like James Wharton to people from the Prime Minister’s City Hall days; and contracts for cronies, with only £0.2 billion of the £17.3 billion in contracts for PPE subject to open competition. This is not the Prime Minister’s money and not the Conservatives’ money. It is our money—taxpayers’ money, earned through hard work—and we expect it to be honestly and efficiently spent.

This Government have no moral compass. Look at their reaction when criticised by institutions that provide a check on their power. When the courts found that the Government had illegally prorogued Parliament, the Government looked to limit judicial review. When international laws prove inconvenient, they break or ignore them. Parliament’s role in holding Government to account has been eroded, with Ministers refusing to appear at Select Committees, the Prime Minister interfering in parliamentary elections, and legislation being rushed through with scant scrutiny. The independence of the civil service has been undermined, with permanent secretaries sacked for speaking truth to power and Ministers appointing their cronies as non-executive directors. Those in the press who dare to criticise the Government get sidelined. The Government tried to keep sections of the press out of No. 10 briefings. Their answer to criticism from Channel 4 is to privatise it, while the BBC’s reward for unbiased public service broadcasting is the licence fee slashed. A free press, a strong Parliament, an independent judiciary and an impartial civil service are essential to a healthy democracy. This Government have undermined these institutions, and it is shameful. This debate is essential to call a halt to the dangerous Trumpian assault on everything we value in our British democracy.

This should not be about Conservatives against Labour. Every MP needs to ask themselves, “Can I have confidence in a Government who mislead with impunity, abuse office to reward friends with jobs and lucrative contracts, put self-interest above the national interest, allow their party to accept cash for access, influence and honours, and whose members indulge in egregious lobbying or sex, bullying and sleaze scandals?” Can any hon. or right hon. Member in good conscience walk through the Lobby and declare their confidence after the litany of bad behaviours that have marked this Government’s time in office? The answer must be no.