Sam Tarry – 2022 Speech on Standards in Public Life

The speech made by Sam Tarry, the Labour MP for Ilford South, in the House of Commons on 7 June 2022.

It is somewhat ironic that we are debating standards in public life, given the Prime Minister appears to have no standards and no moral compass whatsoever. It is now blindingly apparent to our constituents that, after many months of rule-breaking, the Prime Minister is fundamentally dishonest, or has at least given the appearance of being dishonest. He is constantly mired in scandal and feels so entitled that he believes his own rules do not apply to him. That is not just Opposition rhetoric or a mere one-off; it is a pattern of behaviour that has emerged not recently but over the past two decades.

A perception of dishonesty, if not actual dishonesty, has been repeated time and again in this House, and it is bringing our democracy into disrepute. My constituents are pretty angry about this. My constituent Dani is angry and contacted me to communicate her disgust at this behaviour. She described her young daughter, who was very unwell during lockdown and who suffers from a rare condition called listeria monocytogenes meningitis and severe mental trauma from her ordeal. She told me:

“I can’t express my anger and disappointment that Mr Johnson thinks it’s acceptable to make up excuses the way he…has done. I no longer have faith… Please pass my story on to whoever that would want to hear it. As I also am raising awareness about listeria meningitis because it’s a strand that is not known much about… Let’s get a Prime Minister in that would treat us as equals. And not feel the need to lie to us. I watch everything, and it doesn’t sit well when we all know his apologies are worth nothing.”

Another constituent, Anuja, wrote:

“At a time when I was forced to go into labour…with my son on my own without a birthing partner, Boris Johnson and his colleagues thought it was an appropriate time to host a party going against all rules they had set themselves. A few days after I gave birth, my closest Uncle passed away and not only were we unable to attend his funeral, his immediate family were not allowed to see him one last time and had to part ways with him all on their own with not a single shoulder to cry on.”

How much more needs to happen before Conservative Members, specifically the 211 who voted to keep the Prime Minister in office, decide to take action and oust him? He has the support of less than a third of the House of Commons. In 1979, before my time, Prime Minister Callaghan, with the support of 310 MPs, called a general election on that basis. Our current Prime Minister has less support than any Prime Minister in living memory.

This situation goes far deeper than partygate. The Prime Minister recently abused the ministerial code by redrafting it to reduce the potential sanctions for Ministers who break rules, and he was castigated by the former local government ombudsman, who served on the Committee on Standards in Public Life for five years until last December. Jane Martin went on to say that Mr Johnson had wrongly used a report by her committee as a spur to weaken the code.

I remind the Minister of the comments made by previous speakers about ACOBA. The Government are yet to respond to Lord Pickles’s letters, sent in July and September, about Dominic Cummings’s breaches of business appointment rules. That is exactly why today’s motion to back the full package of recommendations by the CSPL would strengthen transparency and integrity, and improve accountability in our democratic institutions. It is only by making those necessary changes, in particular, with the independent integrity and ethics commission, that we can safeguard our democracy and look our constituents in the eye. This would, I hope, mean that debacles such as the Owen Paterson scandal could be avoided in future. The Prime Minister not only defended Mr Paterson’s clear and egregious breach of lobbying rules, but, disgracefully, attempted to remove the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for doing her job. That is behaviour we would expect to see in an authoritarian state, not in one of the oldest and proudest democracies on earth. So it is no surprise that the Prime Minister’s own anti-corruption tsar resigned yesterday for those repeated failings.

Just last weekend, the Prime Minister was making obscene hand gestures to shocked members of the public who had taken it upon themselves in the Morito restaurant, Hackney to question his actions. That is the latest in a long line of well-documented offences. What we have seen in the past couple of years is something that, I am afraid to say, has been part of the Prime Minister’s character for nearly two decades. In 1990, he was secretly recorded, in a previous job, agreeing to provide the address of the News of the World reporter Stuart Collier to his friend Darius Guppy, who wanted to arrange for the journalist to have his ribs cracked as revenge for investigating his activities. That is the true mark of the man behind the door of Downing Street.

Then we come to the Prime Minister’s record in public office. In perhaps one of the most scathing assessments of his time as Foreign Secretary, a London Conservative mayoral candidate, Steve Norris, pointed to ill-informed comments of the now Prime Minister that undoubtedly led to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe facing many years in incarceration. Mr Norris’ telling comments were that, in addition to being “lousy on detail” during his time as London Mayor, his consistent failure to “read the paperwork” was exactly the sort of behaviour that led to his sloppy and inaccurate comments about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. He is not a jovial character, as many of us have been led to believe; this behaviour has affected people’s lives for decades, most angering, recently, those hundreds of constituents who did abide by the rules and were not able to be with their loved ones, attend weddings or attend funerals in times of need over the past few months and years.

The Prime Minister has said that it will take a tank division to drag him out of Downing Street, which means that, even after last night’s vote, he still is not going to leave of his own accord. So I urge colleagues, on both sides of this House, to continue to explore all options to force this position—to make a change—so that democracy and integrity can be restored, and so that this House can rightfully be restored to its place as a pre-eminent symbol of democracy around the globe. If there is an appearance of dishonesty in our Prime Minister, at a time when the country needs to be navigated through the most economically uncertain years ahead that we potentially face, with misery already being caused to millions, surely that trust has to be restored in one way or another. We cannot have someone with their hand on the tiller steering this country who has no trust, from not only this House, but from the vast majority of people in this country.