The Con Way?

I didn’t weigh in on the Conway con as the story broke yesterday because, frankly, I don’t believe that any political party has a monopoly on foolishness when it comes to money, family members and employment.

That says more about my view of human frailty that it does about political parties and politicians. If you put temptations in front of any group of 650 people, chosen how you like, some of them will fall. Of course, I’d like to believe that a belief in Socialism or Social democracy inoculates you from such temptation, but I very much doubt it’s so. 

So to a certain extent, Derek Conway’s personal affairs are not a party political issue. If Mr Conway happened, by chance, to be a Labour MP my reaction would be no different*.

Yet at another level they are absolutely political. When the Committee on Standards and Privileges published their report, The official reaction of the Conservative party was pretty clear. They released a statement saying:

“Derek Conway has apologised fully on the floor of the House of Commons and the Whip has not been withdrawn. The appropriate punishment is being administered”

Less than 24 hours later, that statement was, as they say, no longer operative.

The new line was:

“The usual procedure in these cases is to leave the punishment to the House of Commons authorities, however, having asked the Chief Whip to speak again to Mr Conway and having personally reflected overnight I have decided to withdraw the Conservative Whip from Mr Conway.”

This strikes me as rather an odd statement.  After all, when the Standards and Privileges committee report came out, it contained everything that was in the public domain the next day. The details about Freddy and Henry Conway’s payments, the fact he employed his wife as a researcher, all of it’s in the report. So what could have changed David Cameron’s mind?

The headlines? Of course not. David Cameron is a man of principle, n’est pas? He doesn’t change his mind because of headlines, not like that nasty Gordon Brown.

The reaction of his party? No, no, no. David Cameron is a capital L leader, so there’s no way he could be backtracking because his activists were baying for blood.

New Evidence? That would be helpful, except that there wasn’t any. The allegations in the papers this morning were all sourced from the parliamentary commissioners report.

So the only reason David Cameron could give for changing his mind on the subject of Derek Conway’s fitness to be a Conservative MP was that he’d had a bit of a think about it. 

Still, fair enough. A man’s allowed to change his mind.

But if he held out from sacking him for a day, he must have had a reason, so it does make me wonder about the counter-pressures Cameron was considering in the first place. 

I believe the new Tory party is a reasonably slick media operation. So when David Cameron first decided to do nothing about Conway, it was in the knowledge it would be pretty bad for him. Tory MPs can’t pay their sons several thousand pounds for not much work without it reflecting a little on their leaders anti-sleaze image.  

Yet Cameron chose to hang tough.  Why?  Nick Robinson explains some possible reasons here. The crucial part is this

“Conway is a popular Tory MP who looked set to be his party’s Chief Whip if David Davis had become Conservative leader. He was even talked of as a possible Speaker. Although David Cameron might be tempted to make an example of him he would be taking on a powerful coalition consisting of those who never wanted him to be leader plus the parliamentary old guard who regard questions about their allowances as challenging the assumption that all MPs are “honourable members” until proven otherwise.”

This gets to the heart of it, I think. Cameron couldn’t just dump Conway- he’s too well connected, too popular, too close to key Tory figures like David Davis.

At the same time, Cameron probably has little time for the tough Geordie former Maastricht whip. So when it got hot, he felt able to dump him, safe in the knowledge that the Tories who liked Conway would be unlikely to put their heads above the parapet to criticise Cameron’s decision today.

So fairly clear political ju-jitsu.

I’ve no doubt Cameron’s inner circle are irritated and frustrated by what Conway did. Cameron’s move is a perfectly respectable political decision (or re-decision), though clearly not a deeply moral and principled one.

Yet it does store up some interesting problems for Cameron. It irritates some old guard MPs and David Davis supporters, who might be tempted to put the pressure on at another time.

Second, If another Tory MP is revealed to have employed a family member as a researcher on a less than clear empoyment basis, will they be sacked too? Is Cameron’s office convinced that this isn’t the case? An article by former Tory MP Keith Best strongly hints that it might have been normal practise in reasonably recent history.

So while David Cameron will have quieted the dismay in places like ConservativeHome, he might have solved one set of problems by accepting the burden of another.

* The same applies to other alleged personal failings. If Nigel Waterston or Andrew Pelling were Labour MPs, the allegations against them would be just as grave and no more a reflection on the beliefs of their party.

12 Responses to “The Con Way?”

  1. Bob Piper

    Absolutely spot on… but it doesn’t stop us having some fun at the expense of the sanctimonious holier-than-thou Tories who have been baying for blood for every Cabinet Minister possible over the last few months Hopi.

  2. Praguetory

    ‘If another Tory MP is revealed to have employed a family member as a researcher on a less than clear empoyment basis, will they be sacked too?’

    That’s not quite the precedent that has been set. £40k of payroll cost with no evidence of work done is the finding. If a precedent is set that MPs fiddling their expenses is not tolerated that is a good thing and not a ‘problem’.

  3. newmania

    This reminds me of music journalism, there being essentially nothing much to say you are talking about subjects of your own choosing. Conway stole , he was caught , he is gone , and I daresay will be deselected . By sifting desperately, through the short period in which the situation developed you are cobbling together a cynical narrative which may or may not be true in that anything at all might be . He has a long a good record and so David Cameron was slightly circumspect about signing the death warrant , well maybe . So what. You are trying to imply that there is a moral vacuum at the heart of the Conservative Party on the basis you would prefer it to be true. Its really quite tiresome.

    Still nothing else much in the news is there except the declining productivity if the health services the Lisbon car boot sale being rushed indecorously through Parliament . Then there`s the desperate rush by both Parties to take credit for a Policy allowing the Police to stop Gun and knife crime without being tied up in the red tape Labour have erected over ten years . What the betting that was leaked and grabbed by Brown to save further allegations of inert followership( See Sun and Mirror). In other words business as usual in the ghastly mess that Labour are making of what was once a country but is now a set of EU regions .

    I love the idea that Socialism inoculates you from dishonesty. It is a just so doctrine picked up by the upper middle classes to predate on the lower middle-classes with the assistance of those who stand to gain directly in the short term . It is an inverted pyramid of self serving bribery from the start. Generosity with other peoples money , demanding sacrifices you would not be prepared to make yourself and attributing to yourself a sanctimony not born out by the endless demonstrations of the cant of it all from schools to funding .

    There are 38 MPs with their family on the books . There is more to this and we’ll see how decisive the great ditherer is when it is his turn , meanwhile away from these weighty issues £2.5 billion wasted on development agencies , £5 billion. conservatively, on ID cards ..believe me I could go on and on and on and on and on ….but I need to get to work to pay for all this …..(insert exceedingly rude word to taste)

  4. hopisen

    Newmania, I wonder if you read what I wrote. I specifically said that while I’d llike to believe that socialism would innoculate one from greed it wasn’t so. The sames true of Conservatism, chriatianity, or any other system of ethics.

    The rest of your comment is therefore pointless straw mannery, and a waste of your valuable private sector time.

  5. newmania

    Oh Yeeeer , well just make sure you don`t then:) Still I disagree , Conservatism does innoculate you from cupidity and immorality of most kinds. Take me ..I `m almost perfect ,and what makes you so sure am not a teacher or some other vital cog in the skill-supply side of the equation then…..?

    Could be ….

  6. colin

    As a first time respondent to this website can I say how much I enjoyed this article.

    However there’s another point I’d like to highlight and that’s the position of the BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson

    Alice Miles article in today’s Times Newspaper – see below – seems to suggest that you’re unable to escape his Conservative past. He needs to learn that The Conservatives, David Cameron et al make mistakes/are hypocrites (after all this is about personal gain not issues of transparency) and make that point in bulletins without pulling his punches. The public needs to know.

    Alice Miles, Times Newspaper – 30th January

    ‘But ah! said the BBC, in its first online analysis of the scandal on Monday, “MPs taking on members of their family to work on their staff is not at all unusual. Many have to spend the working week away from home…” And oh, added its political editor the next day, the penalty is already severe compared with those normally handed out by the Commons. Meanwhile, most newspapers buried the story in their inner pages.’

  7. newmania

    No Colin. This is a personal story , not a political one and if the BBC are scared of the Conservative party that would be because they operated a campaign against it throughout the 90s which has only recently even slightly abated. Polly Toynbee Editor of Social Content ?… about five years , can you imagine it ?
    Until we get ten years with Simon Heffer in charge of tax and sovereignty the BBC is tilted the wrong way. Personally I don`t think you can have a Poll tax for the ‘Liberal Conspiracy’.I

  8. newmania

    No Colin. This is a personal story , not a political one, you miss the contrasting resonance and if the BBC are scared of the Conservative party that would be because they operated a campaign against us throughout the 90s which has only recently even slightly abated. Polly Toynbee Editor of Social Content ?… about five years , can you imagine it ?
    Until we get ten years with Simon Heffer in charge of tax and sovereignty the BBC is tilted the wrong way. Personally I don`t think you can have a Poll tax for the ‘Liberal Conspiracy’.If they were beaming sub liminal messages directly into my brain I would not be a bit suprised and there is still a persistent bias.

    Tin foil on.

  9. hopisen

    newmania, are you feeling quite alright?

    The BBC feeding those conspiricies into your brain must have made you come over all odd.

  10. colin

    Newmania, is Polly Toynbee the same commentator much loved and cherished by David Cameron? Seems you may be in the wrong party.

    The Guardian – for all its sins – maybe Liberal but it’s not bad a giving new Labour a kick in the nuts.

    Simon Heffer and the Telegraph couldn’t run a negative Conservative story unless they were so banged to rights it had no choice – a la Conway!

  11. newmania

    PS The Polly Toynbee reference was a way to talk about relative wealth. It did it follow her to the conclusion the answer is to tax at about 70% GDP like her beloved Sweden. The ‘caravan’ metaphor has uses for Conservatives that are somewhat different.
    Simon Heffer is indeed an implausibly extreme figure to be governing the output of a publicly funded broadcaster. That was exactly my point and by the way during the 90s especially, but still today, she is far far far from an isolated example . I have a list of all the BBC figures with direct Labour links if you like ?Its awfully long and there is no Conservative equivalent .

    PPS Heffer does anti Conservative stuff every week as any fule do know


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