One of the most worrying global political trends is the declining faith in democracy. In the UK, three in five people said they weren’t happy with the way our democracy worked.
If we are to hold on to our precious democratic values and freedoms, we need leadership that we can trust. But we have Boris Johnson, a prime minister with an infamous track record for lying. He was sacked twice for it in previous jobs. And one of his former editors has said of him that ‘Johnson would not recognise truth … if confronted by it in an identity parade’.
This is not just lying in speeches on the campaign trail, or making pledges that he has no intention of keeping. Johnson persistently lies to Parliament, driving a coach and horses through the Ministerial Code and the Nolan Principles which set out the standards expected of public office holders.
The Ministerial Code says Ministers must give ‘accurate and truthful information to Parliament’. If a mistake is made, it should be corrected as soon as possible. If the Minister has knowingly misled MPs, they are expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.
But it is the Prime Minister who is misleading Parliament. What we are seeing from Boris Johnson is a shameless normalisation of lying which discredits the office of Prime Minister and undermines Parliament’s ability to hold the Government to account. His persistent failure to be honest and truthful is treating Parliament with contempt.
There are numerous examples since the 2019 election which go beyond his careless boasting. He’s claimed more than once that the economy has grown by 73 per cent ‘under this Conservative government’ (that’s the growth figure since 1990, which has included 13 years of Labour governments).
He’s said the nurses’ bursary has been restored. Not true. Student nurses have been awarded a maintenance grant, but it doesn’t cover tuition costs which the nurses’ bursary did. He’s claimed that 400,000 fewer families are living in poverty now than in 2010, which even the Children’s Commissioner has said isn’t true.
When I raised the issue of cronyism over Covid-related contracts, and why details had still not been published, he told me during PMQs that all the details were ‘on the record’, when the High Court had just ruled that the Government was in breach of the law for not publishing them.
On each occasion, there is no retraction, no correction and no apology. Statements from Downing Street that he always followed the ministerial code, or acts with honesty and integrity, would be laughable if they weren’t so serious.
The job of MPs is to hold the Government to account. That is undermined if we are given false information which is almost impossible to correct in Parliament. During PMQs and statements, MPs are given the chance to ask one question with no opportunity to point out that the answer is false. And accusing a fellow MP of lying is regarded as ‘unparliamentary’.
Parliament’s code of conduct relies on a sense of honour, and under Boris Johnson’s leadership it is clearly breaking down. That is why I, together with nearly all the opposition party leaders at Westminster, have now written to the Speaker asking that the Prime Minister be referred to the Committee on Privileges for treating the House of Commons with contempt.
When the Prime Minister shows such a casual disregard for the truth, it sets the tone for all government ministers. If some statements cannot be believed, can anything be believed?
We already live in a world when conspiracy theories spread like wildfire on the internet and social media. The shared acceptance of what is true is being undermined on a daily basis. Yet the huge challenges we face, around coronavirus or the accelerating climate and ecological emergencies, require truthful information and trustworthy leadership.
If people can’t believe what the Prime Minister is saying because lies are interspersed so freely with the truth, then trust in our democracy is undermined and so is our ability to come together to make the huge necessary changes to our economy in response to the climate crisis.