“Man serves the interests of no creature except himself.”
― George Orwell, Animal Farm
Boris Johnson has been accused by the opposition Labour party of “debasing the principles of public life” after the government published a revised outline of its ministerial code on Friday.
They were made in the wake of last year’s Owen Paterson lobbying scandal, when the now-former MP was found to have breached lobbying rules, but Boris Johnson asked his MPs to not back his suspension. After an uproar, he then U-turned, but Mr Paterson quit.
The updated policy, released by the Cabinet Office, said that ministers who are found to have breached the rules should not “automatically” be expected to resign. The amendment drew criticism from the opposition benches including Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner who accused Johnson of “watering down” the rules to “save his own skin”. She added: “This prime minister is downgrading and debasing the principles of public life before our very eyes.”
The move came as Johnson is set to face scrutiny by the House of Commons privileges committee, a cross-party group of MPs who will determine whether he lied to parliament in his account of the “partygate” scandal.
Revisions to the ministerial code, which sets out standards of conduct for government ministers, were published on Friday.
The changes come following recommendations by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, as well as discussions on arrangements for the office of Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests with Lord Geidt, who was appointed last year.
Johnson’s premiership has survived a difficult week after senior civil servant Sue Gray published her report into lockdown parties at Westminster, exposing a culture of lawbreaking and heavy drinking in Downing Street.
The new changes have been met with derision by opposition parties, who have accused the PM of “watering down the rules to save his skin”.
He is currently under investigation by the privileges committee over whether he knowingly misled parliament when he repeatedly told MPs there were no parties in Downing Street during lockdown – which the police and the Sue Gray inquiry have proved otherwise.
A handful of Conservative MPs have called for the prime minister’s resignation in light of revelations. Paul Holmes, a Tory MP, resigned last week as an aide to home secretary Priti Patel, saying he was “shocked and angered” by the findings. He criticised “the toxic culture that seemed to have permeated Number 10”.
What are the changes?
Ministers will now no longer automatically be expected to resign or face the sack if they are found to have breached the code.
A Cabinet Office statement said it would be “disproportionate” for ministers to lose their job for “minor breaches”.
The prime minister could instead order “some form of public apology, remedial action or removal of ministerial salary for a period”.
Another major change is the independent adviser will now be able to initiate an investigation into potential breaches of the code.
Previously only the PM could do this, but the code now adds that the final decision will still rest with the prime minister.
The independent adviser will be supported by a dedicated set of civil servants, have its own gov.uk webpage, and be responsible for managing its own affairs and correspondent, a policy statement said.
In a statement announcing the changes, the Cabinet Office said: “The government has been mindful of the need to avoid incentives for trivial or vexatious complaints which may be made for partisan reasons.
“Such complaints can undermine public confidence in standards in public life rather than strengthen it.”
What is the ministerial code?
Parliamentary rules and the ministerial code provide the people with confidence knowing the government and its ministers are held responsible if they knowingly lie to parliament therefore the people.
This is the rules and principles which lay out the standards of conduct expected from every government minister.
There are different codes for the government in Westminster, and in each of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
All four of them set out the “overarching duty” of ministers to follow the law and the ethical standards called the Seven Principles of Public Life – these include openness, integrity, honesty and accountability.
The ministerial code also sets out how collective responsibility – the idea all ministers are responsible for government as a whole – works, although the centralised UK one is particularly flexible.
Prior to the new policy statement No.10 released on Friday, the code said ministers “will be expected to offer their resignation to the prime minister” if they “knowingly mislead parliament”.
No other sanctions for breaching the code are laid out.
“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?” ― George Orwell, Animal Farm
Orwell’s Animal Farm, depicts a group of farm animals who rebel against their human owners and take control of the farm themselves. Old Major, an aging boar, gathers the animals and tells them he had a dream where he remembered the lyrics to Beasts of England. He speaks to the animals, telling them to rebel against their human oppressors. He argues that humans are the cause of all animal suffering and that animals will do much better without them. Shortly after Old Major dies, the animals rebel against Mr. Jones, their owner, kicking him and the rest of the humans off the property.
The central beliefs of Animalism are expressed in the Seven Commandments, painted on the wall of the big barn. However, as the pigs seize more and more power, they change the Commandments painted on the barn.
THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
The farm runs smoothly for some time. The animals are motivated to work hard because of their newfound freedom and equality. The pigs, who are the smartest animals on the farm, take managerial roles, while the other animals do the physical labor. After some time, the pigs begin abusing their power. Two of them, Snowball and Napoleon, vie for leadership until Napoleon uses his army of dogs to run Snowball off the farm. He appoints himself as the leader.
Conditions deteriorate on the farm. Some of the animals start seeing the issues, but no one speaks up. Benjamin, the donkey, finally speaks out when his friend Boxer (horse) is injured and sent to the glue factory. By the end of Animal Farm, the pigs have become far worse oppressors than the humans were.
Over time, Napoleon changes all of the Seven Commandments, which were created to keep the animals humble and on equal footing, to allow the pigs to enjoy prohibited privileges and comforts. For instance, when the pigs move into the farmhouse, Napoleon amends the commandment about not sleeping in a bed to read, “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.” Napoleon changes other commandments as well so the pigs can wear clothes, drink alcohol, and even kill other animals.
By the end of the book, the original commandments have been reduced to one statement that encapsulates the authoritarian nature of the farm: “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.”
It seems we are now looking at a time where nothing is equal and any accountability is avoided by a simple rule change…