OPINION: Why integrity matters in politics from the bottom to the very top

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street

Prime minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons to make a statement to MPs on the Sue Gray report - Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Vox pops – when members of the public are asked for their opinion on the high street with a TV camera stuck in their face – often tell us a lot about how people are feeling.

“They are all as bad as each other” is the comment that still hits me in my gut.

And I heard it the other day.

It is, I suppose, an understandable reaction to the endless revelations of ‘Partygate’ .

But they aren’t all as bad as each other – and the real danger is that an endless sequence of revelations and allegations about laws broken, double standards of behaviour when people all over the country doggedly stuck to the Covid rules sometimes in the most distressing family circumstances, lying in parliament and scurrilous allegations against opponents results in people dismissing all politicians as dishonest chancers and giving up on the democratic process.

The numbers who bother to vote will sink still further. We take our democracy for granted at our peril. It is a precious thing which needs to be protected.

It’s over two years now since I left Parliament.

Norman Lamb, who spent almost 20 years as an MP

Norman Lamb, who spent almost 20 years as an MP - Credit: Archant

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And after 25 years on the front line of local and national politics, I am no longer a member of a political party.

I have taken a step back. But I still care deeply about how our country is governed and still have the same passion for the things that I have always cared about. I believe that, at its best, politics is a noble calling. We can disagree vigorously about the sort of society we want to build yet I know that there are decent people across the political spectrum who go into Parliament for all the right reasons. I got to know many Labour and Conservative MPs who I admire and call friends.

There is, though, a basic principle which is now at stake. For democracy to flourish and for Government to do its job effectively, politicians of all parties must commit to meeting standards of conduct which maintain the trust of the public.

That is why this moment is so important. Prime minister, Boris Johnson is in a perilous position. His fate rests with Conservative MPs who are the only people with the power to remove him. They face an almighty burden of responsibility.

It is tough removing a leader, particularly one who has delivered a big majority just two years ago.

Yet as I watch now from the sidelines, the people I really admire are those who have stuck their necks out and made a stand for the maintenance of high standards.

My old adversary in North Norfolk, Iain Dale, who declared on his LBC show that he wanted to be proud of his country and his prime minister. Yet he couldn’t be proud of this prime minister.

The Member of Parliament for Waveney, Peter Aldous, who has called for the prime minister to resign, because, he said, trust in the prime minister had evaporated.

The former chief whip, Julian Smith, a genuinely decent man, who called out the prime minister for the ‘smear’ made against Keir Starmer. Johnson had called Starmer ‘a former director of public prosecutions, who spent more time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile.

This was wrong and could not be defended, said Smith. And now Number 10’s head of policy, Munira Mirza, who has been by Johnson’s side for many years, sacrificed her job because of Johnson’s failure to apologise for the Savile smear.

All these people and more like them have had the guts to do the right thing.

To make a principled stand. Yet, for now, there are many more who hold back, do nothing, defend the indefensible. And if they prevail, we will set a new low.

People will shrug their shoulders and give up on politics.

And that’s dangerous. Standards matter. Integrity matters. Trust matters. As this Government seeks to navigate our country through the enormous challenges ahead, we need to know that we can trust our leaders to act selflessly in our national interest.

Norman Lamb was MP for North Norfolk from 2001 to 2019