It was a “spectacular” U-turn, even by this government’s standards, says James Forsyth in The Times. On Wednesday, Tory MPs were “aggressively” whipped to rip up the regulations for investigating politicians and block Owen Paterson’s suspension for lobbying on behalf of companies he was a paid consultant for. After a furious backlash on Thursday, the government abandoned the “debacle” and Paterson resigned as an MP. Inundated with angry emails from their constituents, Tory backbenchers will be far less likely to toe the party line in future.
The affair seems to have barely been thought through, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. It “started with an attempt at decency”: Boris Johnson believed that Paterson was wrongly accused and “felt a particular sympathy” for the MP, whose wife took her own life as the investigation dragged on. But whatever the rights and wrongs, it was surely obvious that the public would see the rule-changing as a Tory “stitch-up” to protect one of their own. Paterson could have taken his 30-day suspension quietly and been “back by Christmas”. The watchdog supervising MPs could then have been reformed a few months later, in consultation with Labour. But the PM, with his 80-seat majority, has “the kind of power that turns a brain fart into law within 24 hours”. The “arrogance” and “complacency” on show makes the government look as if it’s in “its dying days”.
Having made the “fateful decision” to reform the MPs’ watchdog, Johnson should never have backed down, says Peter Franklin in UnHerd. The opposition’s “hyperbole” about “Tory sleaze” is nonsense: the Paterson affair involved no allegations of criminality; the MP just came down on the wrong side of some ambiguous lobbying rules. It’s “small beer” compared to past scandals like MPs’ expenses, which ended up with several politicians going to prison. And Johnson made a valid point on Wednesday when he said that MPs should have a right of appeal for judgments against them, just like doctors and lawyers.
In truth, the public is rarely interested in political corruption, says Stephen Bush in The New Statesman. Certainly there are never enough voters who care enough about it to sway elections. Far better for Labour to focus on “jobs, crime and climate change” rather than “harp on” about Tory cronyism. That said, a governing party “marking its own homework” will never end well: a lack of scrutiny leads to bad decisions, and bad decisions can “cause real harm to large numbers of people”. That is ultimately what decides “whether the guy who gives the victory speech after the next election is wearing a red tie or a blue one”.