Our MPs are used as lobby fodder as faith in the Government wanes

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set on July 19 as the end date for lockdown restrictions - Credit: PA

I am tempted to agree with Greta Thunberg that COP-26 was all ‘blah blah blah’.

When Boris Johnson flew back to London from Glasgow instead of taking the train, it was difficult to take his climate promises seriously.

There were certainly important agreements on methane and deforestation, and significant pledges by some leaders. But overall it seemed there was too little, too late, to address the disaster we threaten to hand on to our grandchildren. 

Johnson apparently flew back to plot, with former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, how to save their mutual friend, the corrupt Conservative MP Owen Paterson, who was notorious for climate-change denial when he was environment secretary.

It was embarrassing to see Neil Parish MP voting for the brazen - and soon to be abandoned - device which Johnson concocted to get Paterson off the hook, while Simon Jupp MP could only abstain. 

It wasn’t as though Parish and Jupp didn’t know that Johnson might be stitching them up. Only ten days earlier, they had both allowed themselves to be used as lobby-fodder in a move to protect the privatised water companies who are dumping sewage in our waterways, including across East Devon, and threatening the safety of our beaches. They have now meekly supported a ‘compromise’ which still fails to commit the companies to a specific timetable for ending this. 

The extent of Conservative corruption is shocking. As Paul Arnott has reminded us, in East Devon we had advance warning - councillor Graham Brown had to resign in 2013 after being caught offering planning permission for cash; it was clear that he couldn’t have done it without accomplices but they were never caught. But now it goes right to the top. Johnson wanted to get rid of the Commissioner for Standards because she has had to investigate him more than any other MP.   

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It is not just that this country is now sinking to a level which was previously unimaginable. Corruption also has dire effects on the delivery of services. Billions were squandered on pandemic contracts given to Tory mates through a special fast lane, some of them producing wholly useless PPE.

Dido Harding, a Tory peer, was made head of Test and Trace, one of the most inefficient and wasteful of all the new bodies. Her appointment is the subject of a legal challenge by the Good Law Project, whose director Jolyon Maugham QC argues: "For ministers or special advisers to choose their friends or close associates for these key roles is to exclude those who are more able, or better value. And ultimately it is the public interest that suffers."

But who is the Government’s anti-corruption champion? Step forward Somerset MP John Penrose, Harding’s husband. 

Only last month we discovered that the Immensa testing laboratory, which was not properly accredited, had issued tens of thousands of fast negatives for PCR tests taken by people in the South West. Many people will have mixed with family, friends and colleagues, thinking they didn’t have Covid, and inadvertently spread the disease, probably causing hospitalisations and deaths.  

This must be one of the reasons that our region, long a low-Covid zone, now has almost the highest Covid rates in the UK. Devon’s NHS chiefs have been reduced to making desperate pleas for families to take their relatives home from hospital as soon as possible, to free up beds. It has been reported that not a single orthopaedic operation was performed in the RD&E during an eight-week period, such are the pressures on our hugely-stretched and underfunded NHS.  

But does the Government care? No need for Plan B, Johnson and Sajid Javid say. It’s probably a bonus from their point of view that more and more people with money will simply pay to jump the horrendous queues, thereby contributing to privatisation and undermining the very idea of a universal health service.