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Westminster sleaze

Can Boris win back voters’ trust?

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This week in Westminster has been decidedly “swampy”, say Esther Webber and Emilio Casalicchio in Politico. In a growing sleaze and second-jobs row, Tory MP Geoffrey Cox was accused of earning thousands by working as a lawyer from the sunny British Virgin Islands instead of attending to constituents back home. And Cox is not the only “part-timer” in the House of Commons under the spotlight. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is facing fresh scrutiny into how his Caribbean holiday and Downing Street flat refurb were paid for.

The PM’s “fatal mistake”, says Tom Newton Dunn in the Evening Standard, was to side with the elite and privileged, especially in last week’s Owen Paterson case. Swept to power as an “anti-politician”, he now “looks like the ultimate insider, bending the rules to help his own”. Voters have clocked it and are beginning to angrily write to their own MPs. Johnson must “come down hard on the snouts in the trough”, even if it generates “howls of fury” from the Tory old guard who make good money from consultancy gigs. If he does so, he’ll “have the backing of the red wallers” – who, after all, are the Tories’ “electoral future.”

He may need their support sooner rather than later, says Katy Balls in the I newspaper. One “nightmare scenario” is that Johnson could be suspended because of the soon-to-be-released flat refurbishment report, based on a vote in Parliament. “Some contrition” for the scandal he’s led his MPs into would go a long way in winning them back.

But judging corruption by its effects on political fortunes is a slippery slope, says David Aaronovitch in The Times. “A leader can be wonderfully popular and highly corrupt; in fact the first may help you with the second.” Corruption should always be tackled for the sake of it – Britain is relatively uncorrupt “precisely because we make a big fuss about things like the Paterson affair”. If we don’t, then the kind of powerful people who get away with what they can will gradually, smilingly, “dance us down the primrose road to hell”.

First, clean up the House of Lords

What’s “beyond argument” is the case for House of Lords reform, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. One look at that “upmarket Thames-side retirement club” will tell you that we’re far more corrupt than the PM wants to admit. We’ve long been the only democracy in the world where membership of the national parliament is up for sale. Lobbyists turned lords gave £338m to the three main political parties between 2005 and 2014, almost all of which came from just 27 millionaires. It’s the biggest assembly in the world outside Beijing. As newspaper baron Lord Northcliffe said when offered a peerage: “When I want one, I will buy it like an honest man.”