I am not impartial. I have never voted Conservative in my life. I am, however, proud to have friends from across the major UK parties, and I believe that there is more that unites than divides us. Where we have disagreements, they are generally, believe it or not, respectful and tolerant of other beliefs, recognising that we share a common commitment to democratic values, even when that leads to government by a party we do not support. It is this belief and this approach which led me to become chief executive of a cross-party think tank which both enjoys and relies upon support from across the political spectrum.
It is in this context, therefore, that I consider how to judge the Prime Minister’s response to Sue Gray’s report. The test of someone’s suitability to hold high office cannot be whether their behaviour passes the threshold for a police prosecution. That may yet come but the questions I encourage my many friends in the Conservative party to ask themselves today is not legal, but moral and ethical.
When I first became interested in politics, Ministers took responsibility and resigned when their departments made serious but genuine mistakes. Not today and that damages our democracy.
While Gray’s report gives very little detail, it nevertheless establishes some indisputable facts: a minimum of twelve events took place in Whitehall under Johnson’s leadership which contravened the existing rules made by his own Government. Whether the individuals who attended them can be prosecuted is not the test of what happened on his watch.
The Prime Minister attended at least three such events. Whether he himself was criminally responsible for this decision is not the test of what happened on his watch.
And huge amounts of alcohol was consumed by large groups of staff at Number 10, while those seeking to follow the rules, were unable to visit relatives, celebrate birthdays and weddings, or mark the passing of friends, parents, even children.
The test is not whether any of this is legal or prosecutable, but whether it is decent, honourable and likely to reinforce – or damage – the rule of law.
For those that aspire to pass any of these tests, whatever party they may belong to, the time has come to stand up, not in the defence of one or other political party but of our whole political system, its values and its traditions. Enough is enough.