Politics

The Guardian view on being Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser: the impossible job | Editorial

If the points at stake weren’t so critical, and the behaviour of the prime minister not so egregious, it might be tempting to view the newest Partygate developments as a real-life Whitehall farce. When Christopher Geidt agreed final year to develop into Boris Johnson’s newest ethics adviser, it was already obvious that counselling a main minister with no ethical compass could be a tall order. His predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, had resigned in protest at Mr Johnson’s refusal to sack Priti Patel, regardless of Sir Alex discovering her responsible of bullying and in breach of the ministerial code. Lord Geidt – who served with distinction as the Queen’s personal secretary for 10 years – apparently believed he might assist restore confidence in the function. With Mr Johnson in cost, this aspiration proved – to place it mildly – naive. Within months, Lord Geidt was being grievously misled by the prime minister over the procurement of funds for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.

From then on, the bar of probity in No 10 has solely received decrease. Mr Johnson has ducked and dived beneath it throughout the investigations by the Metropolitan police and Sue Gray into Partygate. This week, it seems that Lord Geidt got here near the finish of his tether, reportedly threatening to resign after judging that the fixed-penalty discover handed to the prime minister was making a mockery of his position.

Lord Geidt’s annual report, published this week, represents an indictment of a rule-breaking tradition – one through which the largest headache for Mr Johnson’s ethics chief has been the conduct of his boss and his personal powerlessness to independently examine it. In its exasperated preface, he data his reluctance to advise a “prime minister about a prime minister’s obligations under his own ministerial code”. Instead, he repeatedly requested that Mr Johnson give a public clarification of why breaking the legislation didn’t represent a breach of the code. These requests have been ignored till it grew to become clear that Lord Geidt was on the brink of quitting, at which level a main ministerial letter was dashed off. This duly contained Mr Johnson’s stock evasions – that his breach of lockdown guidelines was “unwitting”; that he had not knowingly misled MPs.

Unfortunately for Mr Johnson, this disingenuous bluster won’t wash any extra. On Wednesday, the chair of the unbiased committee on requirements in public life backed Lord Geidt’s criticisms of Downing Street’s method to the ministerial code. Even Andrea Leadsom, a former cupboard minister and Johnson loyalist, agrees with Ms Gray that the prime minister has been responsible of “unacceptable failings of leadership”. Among a rising variety of Tory MPs, there seems to be a dawning realisation that the lasting ethical injury wrought by Partygate can’t be repaired whereas the man who presided over it stays in office. It is telling that even in the absence of an apparent successor to take Mr Johnson’s place, a confidence vote in his management is now a critical chance.

In the pursuits of their occasion, in addition to the nation, Conservative rebels ought to screw their braveness to the sticking place and make it occur. During the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations, the nation will have a good time the lifetime of a figurehead who embodies for a lot of voters the concept of selfless service and integrity in public life. The distinction with the present occupant of No 10, as Lord Geidt might testify, couldn’t be extra stark.

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