Not for the first time, the Prime Minister’s judgement has been found wanting – only this one resulted in the resignation of the Prime Minister’s Independent Adviser on the Ministerial Code.
The statement from Cabinet Office on the Prime Minister’s decision is here. I’m not going to waste too much time on this. A few days ago I was complaining about corruption with government procurement. Today, the Prime Minister’s Independent Adviser on the Ministerial Code, Sir Alex Allan, found himself in the position of having the PM publicly disagreeing with his recommendation on an issue that strikes at the heart of the working relationship between civil servants and ministers. Given the seriousness of the issue and given the decision that Johnson took, Sir Alex had no alternative but to resign.
“What happens now?”
The Committee for [falling] Standards in Public Life has said it will investigate.
For those of you interested, you can follow the Committee for Standards in Public Life on Twitter – https://twitter.com/PublicStandards
Next week in Parliament will also make for interesting reading (See Mark D’Arcy of BBC Parliament here) as Johnson will be summoned by MPs through the Speaker granting an Urgent Question if he does not volunteer a statement before then. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Prime Minister sent a junior minister in his place. As is more likely, the Home Secretary will be expected to deliver her apology in person to MPs in the Commons – either in the form of a statement or if not, summoned by MPs through the Speaker granting another Urgent Question. Otherwise the first opportunity will be PMQs on 25th November, where the media will be focused on the Spending Review. So the broadcast media will inevitably bury it.
It’s what us civil servants called Gus O’Donnell when he was the Cabinet Secretary in my civil service days. Everyone still does despite him being in the Lords.
Basically he called for the Home Secretary to resign as it is her responsibility to abide by the Code and she clearly failed according to Sir Alex Allan.
Hand the responsibility of drafting and enforcing the Ministerial Code over to a strengthened Civil Service Commission and expand its remit to cover ministers and the Ministerial Code.
Simply give the authority under a new Act of Parliament to the Commission and give it powers to sack ministers through whatever constitutional mechanism needs to be put in place. Even if it is a direct recommendation to the Crown to dismiss the minister concerned (thus making it the only institution with the authority to override the convention of a monarch acting on ministerial advice. Alternatively, change the constitution and have an elected Head of State and do away with the Monarchy!)
On how the scandal might play in the public’s view
It’s one of those things that emotionally has cut through to those that pick up on it. The Prime Minister has sided with a bully. Given the number of people who have been or still are being bullied, and the number of people that know of someone who has & can empathise with them, this makes it an issue that goes far beyond the Westminster bubble. Many will have had experiences of being bullied at school or in the workplace. That the Prime Minister is prepared to tolerate it in spite of protestations that he wouldn’t in his personal preface to the Ministerial Code also speaks volumes. And every Conservative politician that has posted messages of support to the Home Secretary owns this one too. They will have to defend this at future elections. Should there be no electoral response not just to this but the accumulation of actions by this administration, then we will have found ourselves in a very, very dark place indeed.