There will be no junking of the current Parliamentary Standards régime, no more demands for the Commissioner of Standards to resign. Instead, there would be a vote next week on Paterson’s 30-day suspension, which would most likely confirm it. That would mean a recall petition and a potential by-election in a safe Tory seat, but then, so was Tatton in 1997, and Neil Hamilton lost. Badly. One reaction to the news was telling.
That was from veteran journalist and commentator Peter Oborne, who mused “Yesterday feels to me like Johnson’s Black Wednesday. The beginning of the end and no coming back”. That moment in September 1992 when John Major’s Government saw its reputation for economic competence shredded: it was not a sleaze moment, though that followed with the certainty of night following day. What happened can be put simply.
Major had won an unlikely General Election victory earlier that year; the key factor for swing voters was not wanting to risk the economy. But the Tories had previously made a serious economic misjudgement: Major, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had taken Sterling into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. In doing so, he had assumed a value of one Pound Sterling to 2.95 Deutschmarks. This proved his undoing.
As the Wikipedia entry on Black Wednesday points out, “In 1989, the UK had inflation three times the rate of Germany, higher interest rates at 15%, and much lower labour productivity than France and Germany”. Interest rates had eased to 10% by 1992, but Sterling had been overvalued and came under severe pressure on the currency markets.
(c) Steve Bell
The Government jacked interest rates back up to 15% during September 16: the markets were unconvinced. Ultimately, Sterling was withdrawn from the ERM and sank over the next few months to less than DM2.20. From this, all Major’s other troubles followed.
Although the economy slowly recovered, partly through devaluation, nothing went right for the Tories. Hard on the heels of the ERM débâcle came the Murdoch press’ sting on Major’s cabinet colleague David Mellor, who had decreed that the press was “drinking in the last chance saloon”. Rupe’s troops, it seems, decided to take him out.
Mellor’s conversations with his mistress Antonia de Sancha were bugged. A variety of creative claims about him were added to the mix, including the claim that Mellor made love while wearing a Chelsea shirt, and with the Sun, then edited by the deeply unpleasant Kelvin McFilth, trumpeting the headline “FROM TOE JOB TO NO JOB” after Mellor resigned. There was no tightening of press regulation.
By-elections came and went; Major’s Parliamentary majority sank from just over 20 towards zero. The claims of sleaze only intensified when Neil Hamilton, he of “cash for questions”, sued the Guardian, only for his case to collapse at the last minute. The paper did not spare Hamilton: “A liar and a cheat” was the next day’s headline.
On top of all that came the split in Tory ranks over Europe - the issue that did for Mrs T., and would come to define the party as it slid slowly but inevitably from Euro-pragmatism in 1992 to the screaming Europhobia that brought us Brexit. Every one of Major’s efforts to draw a line under the sleaze, ineptitude and infighting failed.
There are already echoes of 1992 coming to haunt alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson: part of the case against David Mellor was that he had accepted the gift of a month-long holiday in Marbella for himself and his family. Today it was revealed that Bozo’s recent break in, er, Marbella was a freebie from the Goldsmith family. Zac Goldsmith was recently ennobled by Bozo. The value of the gift is as yet undisclosed.
But, unlike Neil Hamilton, Owen Paterson will not be digging his heels in and embarking on a series of lawsuits: he is resigning as an MP, a move which will undermine Bozo yet further. It will get worse: Brexit cannot forever be laid at the door of the rotten foreigners, and nor can the UK’s diminished status around the world. The Tories’ inept handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen too many citizens die needlessly.
Cronyism and corruption continue to be unearthed; this, too, will continue to dog this Government. And now that the Standards Commissioner and Committee has been vindicated, it may soon go after Bozo himself, given the news from Marbella. Worse, the decisions Bozo has ignored, like Priti Patel breaking the ministerial code, will keep being thrown back at him. He cannot keep on jollying and lying his way out of it.
In every instance, a Government’s decline begins with the passing of a tipping point, the moment when credibility finally expires, when supporters begin to think better of their allegiances and quietly slip away, when the media class finally conclude that the game is up. They lingered around Bozo maybe too long, willing one of their own to come good.
Back in 1992, it was the panicked jacking up of interest rates in a vain attempt to prevent the inevitable decline of Sterling, only to be abandoned as reality hit home. This time, it’s the attempt to ditch the last vestiges of Parliamentary standards to let a disgraced MP off the hook - only to be abandoned as reality hit home. Both were a sign of weakness. Both were a signal to the wider world that the Government had lost its authority.
Bozo and his party are now on the way out. All the country needs in the meantime is an opposition that can do the job, and help him out the door. And stop fighting itself.
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