‘IF that’s justice I’m a banana’ said Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, when a libel case in 1989 resulted in his magazine being ordered to pay damages of £600,000 to the wife of mass murderer Peter Sutcliffe (aka the Yorkshire Ripper). Having read the Committee of Privileges’ hissy-fit report in response to criticism of its treatment of Boris Johnson, I can say that if that’s impartiality I’m a Victoria sponge.
Before I go stale, let me explain. The Committee of Privileges has castigated its parliamentary critics for allegedly attempting to influence the outcome of the inquiry, impede the work of the committee by inducing members to resign from it, discredit the committee’s conclusions if those conclusions were not what they wanted, and discredit the committee as a whole.
Although the report includes an annexe with examples of MPs and Lords saying a number of disobliging (and true) things about the committee and its findings regarding Johnson, it does not connect any of its charges with any individual, nor does it give any specific examples as to how any of the four charges listed above were sought to be achieved. This is not a surprise as the report is only 14 pages, five of which are the top and tail of the document. The committee took no witnesses in compiling its report, though it clearly had someone trawl the internet looking for disparaging comments.
One of the committee’s charges against Johnson was that he had impugned the integrity of the committee and thereby undermined the democratic process of the House of Commons. Its outrage at having its proceedings questioned by MPs is thus entirely in character but no less disturbing. It is also not surprising that the committee recommends the House of Commons pass a resolution that ‘Members of this House should not impugn the integrity of that Committee or its members or attempt to lobby or intimidate those members or to encourage others to do so, since such behaviour undermines the proceedings of the House and is itself capable of being a contempt.’
The committee has been accused of being a kangaroo court but by demanding that MPs do not criticise it, the committee goes from marsupial to autocrat: Stalin, Mao, take your pick. A refusal to be scrutinised is a hallmark of tyranny and corruption. Respect is something individuals and institutions need to earn, it is not an entitlement.
And then there is the not-so-veiled threat in its final clauses that the very act of questioning the committee may lead to an MP facing a charge of contempt. Clearly, there is the hope that the merest hint of disciplinary action will silence turbulent parliamentarians. Nadine Dorries, Mark Jenkinson, Brendan Clarke-Smith and Michael Fabricant (named in the report) have all blown raspberries at this, so it doesn’t seem to be working so far.
The committee’s attack on the free speech of MPs is merely another example of an attempt to muzzle anyone who challenges the official narrative on any subject. In the big scheme of things, the petulant foot-stamping of some MPs because some other MPs think they’ve been biased in their conduct of an investigation into another MP doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. But the committee’s demands are precisely what we see happen to those who challenge the ruling consensus, whether it is on climate change, Covid vaccines and lockdowns or trans ideology: attack and then try to silence. Last week Nigel Farage announced that his existing bank (which he has previously stated is Coutts) told him it was to close his accounts, having given no reason, and that seven other banks have declined to offer him an account. If you think the banks’ actions aren’t motivated by Farage’s politics, I’m still a piece of cake.
As children, we were told or read the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes and how a small boy exposes the foolish and vanity of the adults. In reality, it’s more likely that the crowd would have given the child a sound beating for daring to challenge what they had been told to believe. And that is what the Committee of Privileges and most of the political establishment wish to hand out to those who challenge them. We have yet to see Digital Central Bank Currencies, and the social credits scoring systems they enable, come to fruition but be sure that your freedom to criticise is already under attack in more ways than most suppose. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.