Before we get to that, a brief thought on the PM and his amendments to the Ministerial Code. At the heart of most scandals is a conflict of interest: putting your own personal interests ahead of those you should take into account. The PM is ultimately responsible for the Ministerial Code and its enforcement. How is that supposed to work when it is him accused of breaching it and he is under investigation? He should not be judge and jury in his own cause. Nor should he be rewriting it while under investigation. But that is the system we have. It has only worked because PMs have, on the whole, been Good Chaps who understood the need to try and abide by it and, crucially, understood the need to abide by agreed conventions and restraints on Prime Ministerial power. Boris is not such a Good Chap. So, once he goes, matters will snap back to how they were before, right? Not so. It would not matter if the PM was the Archangel Gabriel with the wisdom of Solomon. The conflict of interest is still there. How to resolve it? An independent regulator with the power to initiate investigations? A court? And how does this fit with the fact that the government has been elected? This tension has been highlighted by the PM’s behaviour but it will still be there when he is gone. Among all the sound and fury, this issue has barely been addressed let alone resolved.
Meanwhile here are some stories which should get more attention than they have:
- Children’s homes A recent Times report has revealed how many children’s homes are being run by people and companies with little or no experience dealing with vulnerable children, little training and with unqualified and inexperienced staff. In many cases, little or no due diligence was done on either the owners or staff. Large fees are being earned by these companies – so large, in fact, that their profits have been described as “excessive” by the Competition and Markets Authority. But standards are low, even lower than for adult social care. The regulator – Ofsted – has no power to do checks for criminal convictions on the owners of the companies. Inevitably, some of those running these homes do indeed turn out to have serious criminal records. As for the safeguarding of the children – how is that going? Well, what do you think?
- The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill This effectively grants immunity from prosecution in relation to violent crimes during the Troubles. It has been severely criticised by the Bingham Centre (set up to honour Lord Bingham, author of an elegantly clear explanation of what the rule of law is and why it matters – in a democracy anyway) as undermining the rule of law – by stopping all prosecutions, inquests, civil claims, complaints against the police and making it mandatory to grant immunity without imposing any requirement on the person admitting to a crime to be honest or accurate in their admissions, let alone contrite. Victims are totally ignored and have no say in the decision. Not much “reconciliation” for them, then. There is no accountability. And none of the political parties in Northern Ireland support it.
- War by a totalitarian dictator Not Putin. But Xi Jinping. A huge amount of material – photographs, speeches, orders etc – has been revealed evidencing the widespread scale of the deliberate brutality ordered by the Chinese leadership against the doomed Uighur people. We have known about this for some time, of course. But this cache of material provides the evidence for it and shows in appalling detail how the Chinese government is conducting what is, in effect, a brutal war on the Uighur nation aimed at eliminating it. This evidence has elicited no comment from Muslim states nor many others, frankly. If only Ukraine had been located at the other end of the Russian landmass Putin could likely have done what he wanted without anyone noticing. Or caring. There are only 2 lessons to be learnt from this story: (1) geography matters; (2) religious solidarity does not exist when the oppressor is able to buy silence with oodles of money. Useful to be reminded that it is not just Western states which can be grade “A” hypocrites when it comes to their principles.
- Iraq Just as Israel has established diplomatic relations with a number of Middle East states, Iraq has decided to pass a law which imposes the death penalty on any Iraqi citizen having contact with Israel or Israeli citizens, even on social media. Nadim Zahawi won’t be going back to his country of birth any time soon, I guess. Presumably the Iraqi government will now cease all contact with members of the United Arab List, one of the Arab parties in the coalition government currently governing Israel. From one of the world’s oldest and largest Jewish communities in Iraq starting around 700 BC to this. All that blood and treasure spilled in Iraq was well-spent, then.
- Onto Afghanistan – or out of it, rather – a tale of serial incompetence from Ministers down and including the FCO, laid out in damning detail in a report by the Foreign Affairs in Committee, headed “Missing in Action“. Never mind the Sue Gray report – this report alone should have led to resignations and put the government under serious pressure. We have become inured, perhaps, to our public authorities being utterly useless at their job.
- And so we end with an old favourite (of mine, anyway) – the police, specifically the Met (again). One Met officer has been charged with 44 offences, including 21 counts of rape and will face trial next February. Another Met officer has been charged with rape in relation to an event in July 2021 and will face trial some time next year. It would be nice to think that these matters are coming to light as part of the cleaning out of the Augean Stables and not just evidence of how toxic police culture really is. Relatedly, the former Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, who left his role in April of this year, decided some six weeks after quitting his job to say – with regard to “hate” crimes – that the police should enforce laws, not make up their own. No shit, Sherlock! A pity he could not have said just that when his comments might, conceivably, have had some effect. As it is, the College of Policing, in its usual mulish manner, has still to revise its guidance on this issue, despite the Court of Appeal ruling last year that its guidance was unlawful.
And still we wait for those letters to go in.