Political sleaze is back, and it’s bad news for the Government

By Harry Brown

Once again, the Government has faced a wave of negative headlines regarding Conservative MPs behaviour. 

The chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris started an investigation on Tuesday night after a female Conservative MP reported that she had allegedly seen a male counterpart watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons. This comes hot off the heels of the weekend’s Basic Instinct story and is playing out in the backdrop of unprecedented territory where the two most senior members of Government, the Prime Minister and Chancellor, have been fined for breaking the law. 

These latest revelations follow a raft of ‘sleazy’ headlines. Cast your eyes back to the last eighteen months, and the stories keep coming. From cash for curtains, the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal, questions over the appointment of honours and Lords, Russian money, partygate, and now Pestminster 2.0, the Government seems to have all elements of the sleaze tick box on their resume. 

Whilst some will make the case there has always been an element of sleaze associated with Boris Johnson, and you could even argue this may even be an attraction for some; this comes when the Government is under real pressure regarding the cost of living. Inflation is continuing to soar; energy bills have hiked by 50%, and the price of petrol remains at an unprecedented high. As a result, the Prime Minister’s Westminster operation now faces calls over its ability to govern efficiently and adequately. 

And with local elections around the corner, this could spell bad news for the Government. History shows us that sleaze at a time of financial crisis severely exacerbates negative sentiment towards the ruling party and is a one-way ticket to bringing down a government as it did for John Major and, to an extent New Labour.

The Labour Party will undoubtedly try and make the sleaze attack lines stick. With Keir Starmer, the former Head of the Crown Prosecutions Service (CPS), the opposition has a leader who has all the credentials to hold the Government to account and paint the picture of Labour as the party of decency and respectability. 

The years that David Cameron spent trying to detoxify the Tory brand seem to be well and truly over. Back when some thought the Conservatives might never be in power again, Theresa May famously called them the ‘nasty party’. Two and half years into Boris Johnson’s leadership, the Conservatives are in danger of that narrative taking hold once more.