01 November 2021

Public ‘visibly angry’ over Covid scandals, sleaze watchdog finds

01 November 2021

Covid scandals have eroded public trust that MPs can behave ethically, research by the anti-corruption watchdog has found.

Participants in a survey of 1,590 people conducted on behalf of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) said the pandemic had exposed poor behaviour by politicians, including breaches of lockdown rules and the awarding of public procurement contracts to ministers’ friends.

The survey found participants were “visibly angry as they recounted the strict pandemic rules they had to follow, which they believed were disregarded by various politicians who subsequently faced few or no consequences”.

A report on the survey singled out Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Matt Hancock as “immediately associated with the word ‘sleaze’” and not possessing “the core values expected from political leaders”.

David Cameron was named by people surveyed as ‘being immediately associated with the word sleaze’ (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

In total, 41% of people felt ministers’ standards of conduct were quite low or very low, compared with 24% who felt they were quite or very high.

For MPs the figures were even worse. Just 20% of people surveyed felt that MPs’ standards of conduct were quite or very high, while 44% felt they were quite or very low.

Polling also found that 43% of people felt standards had got worse.

The survey was published on Monday, along with a report from the CSPL that recommended tougher sanctions for politicians with “poor ethical standards”.

It added: “Participants spontaneously recalled examples of public procurement contracts during Covid being awarded to friends of MPs and ministers.”

The committee also found there was “an underlying sense of resignation, bordering on cynicism” that politics would never be entirely ethical, but that improvements could still be made.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said ‘ministers have disregarded the rules’ (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

In his foreword to the main report, CSPL chair and former MI5 director-general Lord Evans said: “From the evidence we have taken during our review it has become clear that a system of standards regulation which relies on convention is no longer satisfactory.”

He added: “The arrangements to uphold ethical standards in Government have come under close scrutiny and significant criticism in recent months.

“Maintaining high standards requires vigilance and leadership. We believe our recommendations point to a necessary programme of reform to restore public confidence in the regulation of ethical standards in Government.”

Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner welcomed the report, saying: “Boris Johnson and his Conservative colleagues’ actions have repeatedly undermined standards in our public life.

“The system that is supposed to uphold the ministerial code, lobbying rules, business appointments, public appointments and transparency is clearly unfit for purpose. Ministers have disregarded the rules and it is about time for a radical overhaul of the system.”

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “The Government has committed to continually reinforcing high standards of conduct in public life so the public can have trust and confidence in the operation of government at all levels.

“We will carefully consider the work of the Committee on Standards in Public Life alongside the recommendations made by (lawyer) Nigel Boardman and other forthcoming reports on similar themes.

“We will set out a full update to Parliament in due course.”

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