You have to wonder what, exactly, the Tories expected to happen when they gave the job of ‘whip’ to a man called ‘Pincher’.
But considering Boris Johnson’s propensity for doubling, ahem, down, we can presumably expect that a Mr Groper will be named as next incumbent of the Woolsack, and auditions for the role of ‘Black Rod’ will be held in the 1922 Committee’s Red Room of Pain.
The sound of knicker elastic being twanged by Tories has caused many – mostly those who remember the 1990s fondly – to talk about sleaze and the final days of John Major. Which is to say, it’s caused many people to talk more b*llocks than an MP being teabagged.
‘Tory sleaze’, for those too young or too drunk at the time to remember, means cash in brown envelopes, escorts, toe-sucking, wearing a Chelsea football shirt while lolloping over a long-suffering mistress in a Mayfair flat loaned to you by a friend. It’s tonguing your wife for the cameras, sharing a bath with Edwina Currie, and fathering love-children you never acknowledge. It’s kiss-and-tells, sensational Sunday headlines, and getting back-to-basics on Monday.
Sleaze, as anyone who has travelled on a night bus might tell you, comes in a dribble.
What the Tories have on their hands at the moment, however, is allegations of sexual assault, investigations of suspected rape, multiple accusations of sexual harassment, and drunken indecent assaults. That’s not ‘sleaze’ – that’s a crime wave.
If a similar tsunami of criminality were to be alleged in any other organisation – a school, for instance, a hospital, or a charity – it wouldn’t be dismissed as simple pervery. The heads of those organisations wouldn’t shrug it off as an embarrassing incident, and if they did, the head would be squeezed out by lunchtime.
Today, we learn that Tamworth MP Chris Pincher has resigned as deputy chief whip after getting drunk and “attempting to seduce” more than one young man at the Tories’ favourite drinking hole, the Carlton Club, which sets membership standards for party loyalty and a dress code, but is presumably less rigid on how drunk and handsy people can get without the police being called.
In response, Boris Johnson has accepted the resignation of Mr Pincher from his £31,680-a-year role maintaining party discipline, and No10 sources have said: “The PM thinks he’s done the decent thing by resigning. There is no need for an investigation and no need to suspend the whip.”
This also means Pincher remains in his main, £84,144-a-year job maintaining democratic law and order, which is the opposite of decent and leaves the whole thing very much open to debate.
Andy Burnham calls this “a total collapse of standards in government”. In truth, Johnson is keeping a firm grip – on the double standards with which his government has become so well acquainted in the past 3 years of tawdry Tory rule.
Doing the decent thing would mean not appointing Pincher to the role of whip in the first place, especially as he had to resign it once already after allegations of harassing a young party worker while wearing a dressing gown “like a Pound Shop Harvey Weinstein”.
Doing the decent thing would mean Mr Pincher apologising to those he is said to have assaulted, not writing his apology in a letter to his boss.
And doing the decent thing would mean, when told of alleged criminality infesting your organisation like crabs on the mattress of a Mayfair flat, ringing the police and asking if they’d mind taking a look at it all with a blacklight.
But when that same organisation has shown itself to be the natural party of government, to break laws and rules to the point where it’s forced to rewrite them, and then break those too while arguing they’re unfair, ‘doing the decent thing’ is about as likely as Johnson appointing a new ethics advisor.
Tory MPs have now demanded he show “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct allegations, and suspend the whip from all those fingered for it. The only trouble with that is there’d be very few left for the whips to whip – and the PM himself might end up expelled from his own party while allegations about corruption of his official Foreign Office sofa are investigated.
Fleet Street Fox
But you have to wonder what, exactly, anyone expected from a party so pro-rogue that it prorogued illegally.
That acted unlawfully towards patients in care homes, in awarding PPE contracts to VIPs, in appointing their friends to public office, in failing to disclose information on time.
Whose top bods broke not just the guidelines but public trust in smooching their mistresses in the office, in driving to Barnard Castle, and in throwing so many parties that Downing Street basically became an illegal lockdown rave that was investigated by a police force so corrupt it’s since been placed in special measures.
There is, though, an upside to this. Because all Labour needs to do is be tough on Tory crime and tough on the causes of Tory crime, and millions of people from the Red Wall to the Blue Base will vote for a crackdown on the Tories.
If a former Attorney General can’t bring them to book, no-one can.