At the Cambridge University Union I once opposed a motion ‘that this house has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’ by quoting Winnie the Pooh, or was it Piglet, when he said “no is a very big word”. My logic being that any confidence whatsoever constitutes a rejection of the ‘no’ in the motion. To be honest, I stole the line from Sir Anthony Selden at an earlier debate in which we were on opposite sides at a King’s College London.
I voted for the Boris in the confidence motion last night, but everyone is entitled to their doubts: I was one of his most vociferous critics on Covid-19 restrictions. Though I have to acknowledge that they had wide public support and that he rightly lifted the restrictions early and in the teeth of opposition from other political parties. Equally, as I have made it clear in this column previously, I have not been at all comfortable with the size and scope of his Government’s policies “wrapping its arms around the whole country” and I have been excoriating about some profoundly un-Conservative legislation. Yet, I had to temper that with the prospect of the prolonged and unpredictable process that would have been unleashed had I chosen to take the opportunity to ditch a Prime Minister with whom I had ideological differences. That self-indulgence would have occurred at time when the national situation demanded the full concentration of Government and, in any event, I might have ended up with a PM that I was even less comfortable with ideologically.
Many voters went into the polling stations in two minds in the 2016 EU referendum, they could have as easily voted either way. So also, many colleagues went into the 1922 Committee last night still weighing up the case on either side, a consideration of how much confidence they had. They made their decisions and the result was far more decisive than ones on which most decisions are made, and certainly more so than the EU referendum result.
On the ‘partygate’ issue, on which so much of my correspondence has dwelt, I had no doubt whatever as to the right course. I sometimes wonder if my correspondents have read a quite different Sue Gray Report to the one that I had. That report details a number of disgraceful goings-on but from which The PM is exonerated. I believe that the PM attended what were legitimate work events which, after he left, became parties of which he was unaware. As I have indicated in this column previously, there is a common misunderstanding that No10 is a house when, in reality, it is a door into a large estate of offices.
The fact that the police have not imposed fixed penalties on the PM for those events re-enforces Sue Gray’s conclusions. The one fixed penalty which was imposed, was the occasion where the PM and colleagues, seated and working in the Cabinet Room, were interrupted by the PM’s wife bearing a birthday cake. Frankly, I don’t believe it was a breach and the penalty ought to have been challenged in court.
The Standards Committee is still to deliberate on whether the Commons was knowingly misled about ‘parties and rule breaking’. As I have previously indicated, what happened was disgraceful, the spirit of the rules and guidance were certainly not being observed, but I have no doubt that the PM was unaware of that at the time he made his statement in the Commons and he was proportionate and honest in his assessment that he had attended ‘work events’.
A large number of my correspondents have written to inform me about their own anguish at not being able to visit dying loved ones or give them a fitting funeral. I have the greatest sympathy for them. The rules were inhumane and, I believe, disproportionate. That was the real mistake.
The Public perception which has given rise such anger has been driven by an unfair and hysterical media narrative.
The PM was elected for a full term. We are only half-way through. The first half took the shocks of the pandemic and the economic consequences of war in Ukraine. The outcome of the next election will depend substantially on the progress that his government makes in the time that is left.