Here at the New European, I think we can take some of the credit for getting the Nolan principles into the heart of the debate during the Johnson premiership, his constant breach of which eventually played a part in his downfall.
Indeed, on the day he was finally forced out, I got a lovely message from athlete turned commentator and businessman Brendan Foster, who said “you were calling him out on lying and standards in public life when everyone else was still treating him like a cuddly toy”.
There were many reasons why Tory MPs refused to play along with Johnson’s vainglorious and narcissistic attempt to get back into Downing Street almost as fast as Suella Braverman got back into the Home Office; even they understood that his return would mean more chaos when stability was required, scandal upon scandal when what the country needed was a bit of calm.
So enter Rishi Sunak, who benefits hugely from not being Johnson, and not being Liz Truss. Yet when it comes to the Nolan principles, the new prime minister shows every sign of going down the same path, and I offer in evidence the Braverman resurrection.
Let me remind you of the Nolan principles, as defined by my re-ordering of them in order to make them more memorable, which helped me recite them hundreds of times in interviews, tweets and articles about Johnson’s corrupt and corrupting period in office. HOOSIAL: Honesty. Openness. Objectivity. Selflessness. Integrity. Accountability. Leadership.
Let’s go through them one by one …
Honesty: Braverman said, and Sunak repeated in parliament on his first outing as prime minister, and a succession of nodding dog cabinet ministers insisted in interviews, that she came forward to admit her breach of security and of the ministerial code, in using a personal email account to send official papers to people who should never have received them. This is not true, according to civil servants and ministers who sat around the Truss cabinet table from which was expelled for the breach. She fessed up when she was forced to, and faced with the evidence, not before.
Openness: Just as Sunak is following in the manner of Johnson in sending out the nodding dogs, in this case James Cleverly, Nadhim Zahawi and Thérèse Coffey, so he is following the Johnson playbook in shutting down rather than answering legitimate questions. Like Johnson, he will discover that despite having a largely pliant pro-Tory media, difficult questions will not go away. He had better get some better answers about Braverman soon.
Objectivity: Johnson sidelined or forced out his ethics advisers. Truss decided she was so ethical she didn’t need one. One of Sunak’s closest chums, Oliver Dowden, told the Commons he will have one, but simply could not answer the question about whether an ethics adviser would have sanctioned Braverman’s return.
Selflessness: I’m not convinced you get to be as wealthy as Sunak, (unless you have a Bill Gates-style reputation for giving away tons of money,) without a thick streak of selfishness. I am aware of his major donation to his old school, Winchester, which I suspect needed it a lot less than most schools. And the fact he spends five times more as a parent on his own children’s education as he did as chancellor on those of the 93% who use the schools for which he is responsible makes me very suspicious about his claims to be interested in the poor and vulnerable. As for this compassionate Conservative Party he keeps banging on about, there is only one of those two C-words that really drives them, and it’s not compassionate.
Integrity: Braverman got her job back because she backed him against Johnson. Grubby. Integrity holed below the waterline on day one.
Accountability: Sunak was all sober and serious on the steps of No 10, where he promised professionalism, integrity and accountability. Yet in his first PMQs, he barely answered a single question, preferring bluster and evasion, yet another symptom of the Johnson Lite approach we may have to get used to. As for Braverman, she sat there laughing at his jibes, but then scuttled out before the urgent question granted by the Speaker to her shadow, Yvette Cooper, which immediately followed PMQs. Not so much parliamentary accountability, as total contempt for it.
Leadership: Sunak re-appointed Braverman after six days knowing that her breach(es) of the ministerial code were serious. He did so because he feared what would happen if he didn’t. That is weak leadership. I am not a betting man, but I reckon Braverman has to be odds-on favourite to be the first Sunak cabinet departure, with grumpy-looking Penny Mordaunt not far behind, and watch out for Gavin Williamson coming up on the rails.
Both Braverman and Williamson have form for behaviour unbecoming a member of the cabinet. When the leader signals to people like them that all they have to do to be excused is to support him, he is saying he is fine with them carrying on as before, which they will. That is not leadership. It is an affront to HOOSIAL. It puts him in the Johnson-Truss camp for standards, which is not a place a clean pair of hands should want to be.
Has anyone heard anything from the TaxPayers’ Alliance (c/o 55 Tufton Street) about the grotesque waste of public money represented by the never-ending ministerial merry-go-round? That Liz Truss should draw a six-figure salary from the public purse for the rest of her life is exactly the kind of thing the Tuftonistas would be raging about were we talking about an ex-Labour PM.
There is a fair chance Truss has more years to live than the number of days she managed in office. Talk about rewarding failure. Meanwhile, Braverman got three months salary for getting the boot, as did Williamson, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Robert Jenrick and all the other reject retreads, who will cop another load of redundo when they’re kicked out again.
Having interviewed François Hollande for The Rest Is Politics in his Paris office, I took advantage to head south with Fiona for a few days. I can’t say I enjoyed the ridiculously unseasonable warm weather. Though it felt nice on the skin as I cycled my Pinarello Dogma around the place, the swarms of insects suddenly engulfing me suggested a confused ecosystem, which made me ever more anxious that we’ve just left it too late to fix the climate crisis.
That in turn left me mystified as to why Sunak has followed Truss in banning King Charles from attending the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt, and refused to go himself. All those warm words during the leadership election campaign about the lectures he got from his kids on the issue… clearly more important than any desire actually to take a leadership role on the disastrous warming of the planet.
I did at least have some new cycling gear, a yellow top with “The New European” branded across it front and back, and a lovely half UK/half EU mixed flag on the sleeve. You may have seen me modelling it on Twitter and Instagram. I am reckoning there may be a sizeable Venn connection between TNE readers and Mamils (middle-aged men in lycra).
If you fancy one let us know by emailing us expressing your interest at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can move into sports merchandising…