16 December 2021, The Tablet

Is the UK a country out of control?

Constitutional reform

Is the UK a country out of control?

Lord Nolan, centre, with his 1995 report, flanked by Labour MP Peter Shore, left, and Tory MP Tom King
Photo: Alamy


Previous Conservative governments have shown scant regard for the law, but under Boris Johnson’s morally bankrupt administration the malaise has deepened. A professor of law argues that without dramatic constitutional reform, Britain will continue its slide towards cronyism

Do these names ring any bells: Tim Yeo, Allan Stewart, Hartley Booth, David Tredinnick, Graham Riddick, Tim Smith, Patrick Nicholls? They were just some of the bit-part players in the great Tory sleaze crisis of the mid-1990s, widely believed to have combined with economic mismanagement to guarantee the party’s huge defeat in 1997.

The big beasts in that Conservative calamity – whose names you are more likely to remember – included Cecil Parkinson, David Mellor and Norman Lamont, and this is before we even get to those who were forced out of office for stupid words rather than suspect deeds, among them Edwina Currie (salmonella rife in eggs) and Nicholas Ridley (can’t stand the Germans). Every day seemed to bring a new story of infamy in high office.

It might be thought that little has changed since the last time the Conservatives enjoyed a similarly lengthy period in office. Owen Paterson is today’s Neil Hamilton, protesting his innocence while he pockets cash, not for questions this time but for influence. Matt Hancock kisses his girlfriend in the way that Piers Merchant kissed his wife in a gruesome public display of fidelity shortly after news of the affair that was to end his career had broken. Boris Johnson is, however, no John Major. The current Prime Minister is himself an epitome of the moral emptiness that in that earlier era brought men down. And yet he remains in post. Here is surely a material break with the past. Wrong produces sniggering, not the sack – contriteness merely simulated while the next ruse is pondered.

Get Instant Access

Continue Reading

Register for free to read this article in full

Subscribe for unlimited access

From just £30 quarterly

  Complete access to all Tablet website content including all premium content.
  The full weekly edition in print and digital including our 179 years archive.
  PDF version to view on iPad, iPhone or computer.

Already a subscriber? Login