Sunak’s By-Election Headache Continues
Rishi Sunak faces yet another by-election headache as disgraced MP Chris Pincher‘s appeal fails. The former Deputy Chief Whip, accused of inappropriate behaviour in a private members club last year, attempted to challenge an eight-week suspension from Parliament. However, the Independent Expert Panel dismissed his appeal, deeming the sanction neither arbitrary nor disproportionate.
Pincher tried convincing the Independent Expert Panel to overturn his ban after a watchdog probe upheld complaints he’d drunkenly groped two men at a private member’s club last June. But the panel dismissed his appeal, deeming the eight-week suspension warranted despite Pincher’s protestations.
Of course, Pincher claims he was just a bit tipsy and merely embarrassed himself. But his victims allege trauma from his wandering hands. Funny how power makes one forget where the line lies until crossing it ruins your career.
Parliament’s standards commissioner Daniel Greenberg found Mr Pincher groped a then-employee of the House of Lords on his arm and neck, before groping his bottom.
He also found he groped a civil servant’s bottom and then his testicles.
Following the inquiry, MPs on the standards committee concluded Mr Pincher’s behaviour was “profoundly damaging”.
It had broken the Commons behaviour code by causing significant damage to Parliament’s reputation, they added.
In his response to the report in July, Mr Pincher – who now sits as an independent MP – said he wanted to “apologise sincerely” for his conduct.
He said, in a submission to the committee, he accepted his behaviour had damaged his reputation and the government’s.
But he rejected the idea he had done significant damage to Parliament’s reputation as he argued he had spoken at the Carlton Club as a former minister, rather than as an MP.
Pincher, had previously acknowledged his excessive drinking and promised to seek professional medical support.
This development raises the specter of another potentially damaging by-election for Sunak in the autumn. Under parliamentary rules, MPs suspended for more than 10 sitting days face a recall petition where constituents decide whether to eject them. If 10% of constituents vote against them, a by-election is triggered.
Labour would need a swing of just over 21% to take the Staffordshire seat, where the Conservatives had a 19,000 majority at the last election.
Already, the government is preparing for a by-election in Mid Bedfordshire following Nadine Dorries‘ resignation, and another in Rutherglen and Hamilton West after constituents voted to remove ex-SNP MP Margaret Ferrier due to her Covid rule breach.
Ferrier admitted breaking COVID rules by traveling while infected. Dorries finally resigned 11 weeks after first threatening to quit. More unnecessary by-elections would only deepen the headache for Sunak’s flailing party.
And while some see cosmic justice, as Pincher’s scandal triggered Boris Johnson’s demise. Downing Street feigned ignorance, but scepticism swirled over how much Johnson knew of Pincher’s past allegations. The whole affair embodied the tawdry state of Johnson’s government.
Of course, Pincher may just resign to avoid the embarrassment of constituents giving him the boot. But Tories must now defend their increasing collection of vacant seats thanks to a legacy of misconduct left by Johnson’s motley crew.
For Sunak, the past is proving inescapable. Johnson’s specter continues haunting the Conservatives as his band of blundering brethren keep paying the price for their indiscretions. The public awaits the next act in this farcical drama.
Pincher has already stated his intention to step down as an MP at the next election, so he may opt to resign instead of facing a recall petition.