Letter to Duncan Baker MP

Duncan Baker
Photo by David Woolfall on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

This is part of a letter sent by an angry constituent to one East Anglian MP. Duncan Baker MP (North Norfolk) was among the 38 Conservative MPs in this region who voted with the government on this issue (though he was not one of the three previously convicted of breaches of the rules, all of whom voted with the government).

We believe that all 38 will have been receiving similar letters, and we publish it as an example of constituents’ views. East Anglia Bylines has, as a founding principle, a commitment to probity in public life, without necessarily sharing the particular views of the author.

Dear Duncan, 

Many thanks for your response and I’m sure everyone sympathises with Tory MPs being led to the top of yet another hill before being left high and dry when public outrage forces the government, overnight, to perform a somersault, leaving those who ill-advisedly supported an outrageous policy to deal with the opprobrium of their constituents and their decent colleagues.

It’s a pity that in your letter you resort to sophistry rather than admit you made an understandable but grave error of judgement. The oldest dictum in politics is that when you find yourself in a hole, it is time to stop digging. No amount of wriggling will disguise the fact that this is a defining moment. Either one is on the side of candour and probity in public office, or one is on the side of sleaze. It has nothing to do with party politics. 

You must have lost track of how many similar U-turns there have been: over the non provision of free school meals during the pandemic, for example. You and many decent MPs for some reason felt compelled to bluster and support an inhumane policy, only to find the ground snatched from under your feet when the policy was reversed in the face of overwhelming public disgust. 

What’s disappointing in your letter is this comment on the present fiasco. You state that the amendment  

 had nothing to do with Mr Paterson’s position, 

Nobody on the planet believes that to be the case. And to repeat a lie doesn’t make it true. Perhaps you need to listen to the life long Tory journalist Nick Robinson’s searing interview of the ministerial apologist on the Today programme yesterday morning. He sets out the moral ground very clearly. Soon after the programme aired, the U-turn was announced. 

We have had a Conservative administration for many years. Had there been any sincere desire to reform the complaints procedure to make it more just, it would long ago have been done. The only reason matters came to a head this particular week was because of Mr Paterson’s very close ties to several cabinet ministers and to the Prime Minister’s wife.  And because Johnson himself panicked, knowing that some of his own decisions are likely soon to come under close parliamentary scrutiny. Enormous sums of public money appear to have found their way into the pockets of his cronies. 

We all know that Boris Johnson has a habit of breaking rules, even the law, if he finds it inconvenient, and of failing to think through the consequences. He seems to believe the country no longer cares about, or is capable of distinguishing between, right and wrong. 

Moral decisions, especially in politics, are always lonely decisions. The individual MP can never escape censure by claiming he was following orders, obeying a three line whip, parroting the party’s face-saving line, or has failed to do his homework properly. 

This was a moral test, and many brave and principled Tory MPs refused to be browbeaten into doing what was clearly conniving with corruption, an attempt to change rules which may yet come to bite Johnson himself. 

No doubt you feel betrayed. So do many of your constituents. 

More in sorrow than in anger! 

Jeff Wood
Holt, Norfolk

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