The Truth Shall Make You
A TORY MP, PARTYGATE AND A CURIOUSLY VANISHING INTEGRITY
Dr. Andrew Murrison MP takes “issues of integrity and wrongdoing in high places seriously”.
We know this because those are exactly the words he wrote in response to an email I sent him in the middle of January.
I had asked Dr. Murrison, as my constituency MP, what he intended to do about the emerging evidence of unlawful parties inside 10 Downing Street during the COVID lockdowns, and specifically if he would hold the Prime Minister to account for his involvement in them.
Dr. Murrison’s response was measured, but very clearly indicated an unwillingness to tolerate Boris Johnson’s antics. But he was – then – waiting for the outcome of the Sue Gray and Metropolitan Police investigations and would not “pass judgement” until they had reported.
Nonetheless, Dr. Murrison was at pains to stress his record of standing up for integrity – and against the Prime Minister – during the then-recent Owen Patterson lobbying affair, in which Boris Johnson ordered his MPs to vote for a doomed Parliamentary motion which would have changed the rules by which Mr. Patterson – another Tory MP – had been found culpable of improper lobbying, and thus let him off the hook.
“You might have noticed from my reaction to the Owen Patterson lobbying scandal that I take issues of integrity and wrongdoing in high places very seriously, once the facts are established.
“In the Patterson case … my ex-colleague was found by the Independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to have engaged in paid lobbying for two businesses. I believed it was not right to change the rules on the hoof for a colleague. I therefore did not support the Government then. Many of the same rules and arguments apply now.”
Curiously, however, within a fortnight Dr. Murrison’s commitment to “integrity” seemed to slide somewhat. After the interim Gray report was released, I wrote to him again, asking him what he intended to do about the Prime Minister in view of its findings.
Although he now viewed Boris Johnson’s actions – and those of his staff – “very seriously indeed”, this hand-wringing was couched in (and indeed preceded by) a ringing declaration of loyalty to the Prime Minister.
“I supported Mr. Johnson’s leadership bids in 2016 and 2019 and have continued to be strongly supportive of the policy direction of his government …
“Mr. Johnson has accepted the interim Gray Report, apologised and set out what he intends to do … Please be assured that I take what is alleged to have happened very seriously indeed. As MS. Gray observes and Mr. Johnson accepts, there were failures of leadership and judgment.
“However, I must also acknowledge that Mr. Johnson has delivered on Brexit when nobody else could, has generally make [sic] the right calls on Covid … that there are far more jobs in the economy than we thought possible eighteen months ago, and that of G7 members, the UK is leading the economic recovery from the pandemic in part because of the courageous decisions the government took at the start of the crisis and at the end of last year …”
Quite how all this – even if true (and there are multiple reasons for scepticism) – could excuse what Sue Gray’s interim report had revealed was unclear. Nor was Dr. Murrison yet ready to pronounce final judgment on the Prime Minister: that would have to wait for the full Gray report and the result of Metropolitan Police enquiries.
“To be honest, Ms. Gray’s update adds very little. Frustratingly for those wishing to inform their position with the anticipated full and objective statement of the facts, it will now be necessary to await the outcome of the Met investigation and Ms. Gray’s subsequent report …
“The situation remains dynamic. You can be assured that I will be watching developments like a hawk. At this stage I rule nothing in or out. However, I am bound to say that what continues to matter most to me is delivery by government and the betterment of the lived experience of those I have the privilege to represent. The position I adopt and the actions I will take will always be driven by an assessment of how that can best be served.”
This email seemed to be backing away from Dr. Murrison’s previous celebration of his own record on matters of probity – a suggestion I put to him later the same day, but which he was quick to reject.
“No, I’ve been consistent. No softening at all. I think I would look pretty daft if I called for him to go and the Met then exonerated him.”
Alas, for Boris Johnson – and presumably for Dr. Murrison – the police did not “exonerate” him. Instead they issued him with a Fixed Penalty Notice, making Johnson the first Prime Minister – ever – to be punished for an offence while in office.
Nor did Sue Gray’s final report provide any greater comfort. In May, it disclosed a succession of drink-fuelled parties inside Downing Street, where officials vomited on the walls, fought with each other, damaged property and verbally abused both police and cleaners within the building.
All of this took place in breach of the COVID lockdown rules which the Prime Minister had imposed on the entire country; and photographs showed the Prime Minister drinking toasts to his staff at some of the events. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Gray excoriated those at the head of the Government.
“I found … failures of leadership and judgment in No 10 and the Cabinet Office. The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government. Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen. It is also the case that some of the more junior civil servants believed that their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders. The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
On the day the Gray Report was published, Boris Johnson made a statement in the House of Commons. He described himself as “humbled” by the findings and promised that he had “learned my lesson”.
Strangely, however, one of these first “lessons” appeared to be his re-writing of the Ministerial Code to remove all its previous references to “honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability”, and to reduce the penalty for breaching the Code from automatic resignation to a temporary loss of pay and/or an apology.
Since this occurred while Johnson was – and is – facing investigation by the Parliamentary Privileges Committee for allegedly breaching the very same Code, this seemed to be a repeat of the Owen Patterson fiasco: an attempt, in Dr. Murrison’s own words, “to change the rules on the hoof” and protect “a colleague” – in this case the Prime Minister himself – from the consequences of his actions.
Last week I wrote again to Dr. Murrison, asking him in the light of all this, and of his commitment to issues of integrity and wrongdoing in high places, whether he now intended to submit a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson: the answer is – apparently – ‘no’.
“In my view Sue Gray’s findings, whilst shocking, do not materially alter what we already knew or suspected. Consequently, my previous remarks on the matter are unchanged including those made online and in the national press”.
The latter turned out to be an article by Dr. Murrison in the Guardian in which he described himself as a “serial Boris supporter”, praised “his brand of Brexity, one-nation Conservatism”, and indicated that the decision on whether to remove the Prime Minister would be based not on integrity, but rather on the pragmatics politics of whether Johnson was “an electoral asset or liability.”
If this pre-police fine and pre-Gray Report judgement was somewhat gnomic, Dr. Murrison is today even less willing to tell his constituents what he plans to do about the dominant and most urgent issue in British politics.
“I do not intend to comment further at this stage on Mr Johnson’s future or on any confidence issues relating to his status as leader of the Conservative party. However, I will continue to actively support the government in carrying forward the policies that flow from the manifesto on which I was elected in 2019.”
Quite what happened to Dr. Murrison, the champion of integrity in political life, in the weeks since January is impossible to know: it seems to have vanished behind his veil of determined non-transparency and Tory real-politik.
Sadly, as the American writer, producer and political commentator Jon Stewart, once noted: “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.”
 Email from Dr. Andrew Murrison MP (Conservative: South West Wiltshire), January 16, 2022.
 Email from Dr. Andrew Murrison MP, February 1, 2022.
 Second Email from Dr. Andrew Murrison MP, February 1, 2022
 “Findings Of Second Permanent Secretary’s Investigation Into Alleged Gatherings On Government Premises During Covid Restrictions” (May 25, 2022): “Conclusions”, p.36
 Email from Dr. Andrew Murrison MP, May 30, 2022.