Party time with Craig Tracey MP


Following the Commons vote on 3 November and their screeching U turn the following day, I sent an email to my MP, Craig Tracey.

The Tories had been whipped to vote in favour of a motion that had the effect of postponing consideration of the Report of the Committee on Standards regarding the (now) former MP Owen Paterson, he of the consultancy fees paid to him by Randox and Lynns Country Foods, or should that be the ‘egregious breaches of the rules against paid lobbying’?

It also meant the setting up of a committee parallel to the Standards Committee, one with a Tory majority, designed to create a new system for investigation of MPs’ conduct, including that of Owen Paterson. So then a blatant attempt to move the goalposts in order to protect one of their mates. All opposition parties refused to cooperate with this underhand attempt to game the system:

Dear Mr Tracey

Re: The Standards Committee vote last night

And so Boris, the Conservatives’ answer to the Grand Old Duke of York, led you up the hill and is now running back down as fast as his legs will carry him, having seen the reaction on the front page of the Daily Mail, not to mention the leaders in the Guardian and the Times.

You really should be aware of the danger of being party fodder. You get abandoned by your own leader when it suits him.

Paul Buckingham

I received a reply, no doubt created by Conservative Central Office, also dated 4 November, but not received until 13 November. This is the relevant part:

"… Yesterday's vote was not based on any one case heard by the Standards Commissioner, but in relation to a culmination of failings in the system that have been reported over a period of time. In any matter such as this, it is important that a fair hearing is given so that there can be confidence that the decision reached and the punishment handed out are correct.

As I am sure you are aware, the MP that has been linked to this motion, Owen Patterson, has now resigned as an MP after 24 years in the role, but it is also important to note that even if the results of yesterday's vote were implemented in full, they would not have exonerated him from any allegations or protect him from any subsequent suspension. As a result, all it would have done is afford him the right of appeal as would be available in virtually every other workplace. One example I would raise here to demonstrate the flaws in the current system is that Labour MP Claudia Webbe who was sentenced today for threatening to throw acid in the face has the option to appeal, yet an MP accused of breaching standards does not. However, as opposition parties have already said they will not enter in to talks of how to provide a fairer system for all parties, despite the current Committee Chair admitting during yesterday's debate, '`1 am absolutely certain that there are things that we could do better. I am determined to make sure that we will do things better to ensure natural justice.'', which demonstrates it is not currently fit for purpose, the Government is withdrawing plans for reform at this time and will enter in to cross party talks with the aim to get consensus for a properly effective procedure as soon as possible for all future cases to be heard by. A motion to reverse the decision is due early next week where more details will be set out.”

“I would also point out that I have voted against the Party line previously when I thought it was correct to do so and am always happy to hear views and explain decisions that I have taken..."

This is my reply, sent on 14 December:

Dear Mr Tracey

Thank you for your letter of 4 November (received only yesterday) in reply to my email of the same date.

It appears that you and many of your colleagues live in a parallel universe in which there is no right of appeal against the decision of the Commissioner for Standards. In my world, there is. Indeed, Chris Bryant, the chairman of the Committee on Standards explained it in very clear terms to several news outlets. There is also a simple guide to how it works which can be found on the parliament web-site -

So that you may have a portal into my world, I set out below the 13th of the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’:

13. What happens if an MP is found to have broken the Code of Conduct?

If the Commissioner upholds an allegation that an MP has breached the Code of Conduct, there are two possible outcomes.

(a) The Commissioner decides the breach is at the less serious end of the spectrum and concludes the matter through the rectification process. This requires that the MP acknowledges and apologise for their breach. The MP will also explain the steps they are taking to ensure further breaches don’t happen.

(b) In some circumstances the Commissioner will refer the matter to the Committee on Standards once she has finished her inquiry. When this happens, the Commissioner sends a Memorandum to the Committee on Standards setting out the facts of the investigation. The Committee then reach their own conclusion on whether a breach has occurred, and if so, they may recommend a sanction is imposed on the MP.

Now, that rather looks like an appeal process to me. In fact it is analogous to the right of appeal conferred on someone convicted in the Magistrates’ Court. They have a right of appeal against conviction to the Crown Court where the whole matter is tried anew and that court’s decision substituted for the one arrived at by the Magistrates. You may be aware that a Crown Court appeal hearing does not involve a jury, the Crown Court judge instead sitting with two lay magistrates who had not been involved in the original hearing. Again, not dissimilar to the involvement of non-MPs on the Standards Committee.

Not only is there a right of appeal from the Commissioner’s decision to the Standards Committee of the House, however, but there is a further step in the process. For the decision of the Committee on Standards to be put into effect, it must first be approved by the House itself. Again, that does look awfully like a right of appeal, as the supposed miscreant can state his case to his fellow parliamentarians and seek to persuade them of his innocence when the motion is debated in the Chamber (and no doubt elsewhere on the parliamentary estate beforehand)

It may be that some changes to the system would be desirable. The Committee on Standards is apparently due to bring out a series of recommendations by the end of this year. Successive governments, though, including your own, had failed to do anything about it for very many years, presumably not seeing the existing system as creating any significant injustice. That thinking held sway until the absurd theatre of the proceedings on 3 November when, in an attempt to kick the matter into the long grass in order to protect Owen Paterson (as he was a member of the ERG), as well as trying to get our beloved PM out of the line of fire, the government completely misread the nation’s mood and then had to do a reverse ferret (as I’m sure I heard Rees-Mogg describe it). Even the usually supportive Daily Mail called the move to protect Paterson “shameless”.

This left members such as you having to defend the indefensible, disingenuously blaming the opposition for your woes and leaving Kwasi Karteng holding the baby for having suggested, I assume with the PM’s backing, that the Commissioner herself should resign. What a way to run a government.

I follow your voting record on:

I therefore appreciate that you have opposed government policy in respect of HS2 just as, strangely, pretty much all the MPs for affected constituencies up and down the line do, although I note that you did not offer to lie down in front of the bull-dozers as Johnson did in respect of his promise to oppose the third runway at Heathrow.

I am also well aware that you voted against Theresa May’s Brexit agreement proposals, preferring instead the hardest of Brexits - the one which has conferred so many benefits on us - although perhaps you could remind me what they are, as I seem to have mislaid my list. Maybe our former international trade negotiator, Liz Truss, can fill you in on her many successes.

Yours sincerely,

Paul J Buckingham

14 November 2021

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