Another day, another scandal: how ceaseless Tory scandals are affecting the Party.
The Tory name once had a tremendously derogatory meaning, originating from the Irish classification of ‘toiraidh’, labelling those within the Tory party as outlaws or robbers. For many years, it was considered a political insult. While the name now has a different perception, the actions of the Tory party remain as they were 300 years ago, reflecting this historical title. Tories, in contemporary politics, have arguably remained a party of criminals.
As can be seen in the actions of some recent Tory Prime Ministers, the crimes of choice are often financial. Under Cameron, lobbying was an issue that resurfaced, with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) looking to investigate what happened. Towards the end of his tenure, he admitted to have had shares in the tax haven fund, which he sold for £31, 500 just before becoming Prime Minister in 2010.
This investigation, which was part of a network of scandals leaked in 2016, which became known as the Panama Papers scandal, discovered that as many as three former Conservative party MPs had connections to offshore tax havens in many small island nations such as the British Virgin Islands, Samoa, and the Bahamas. Tax scandal, after tax scandal, they just kept appearing.
And even now, they do not stop. Tax affairs are once again the topic of discussion for the Conservative party, as just a few weeks ago, Nadhim Zahawi, the former Chancellor, now sacked by Rishi Sunak, was embroiled in a significant tax scandal. Sunak made the sensible decision to rid him of his position in the party, in an attempt to scale back any significant backlash that he might face.
Sunak, even during his short stint at the premiership, has been brimming with scandals and controversy himself.
However, Rishi Sunak, even during his short stint at the premiership, has been brimming with scandals and controversy himself, such as his wife’s non-domicile status, which allowed Sunak’s wife to avoid paying significant amounts of tax for her financial endeavours outside of the UK. Although he can justify this for having occurred outside his tenure as Prime Minister, and also find the space to forgive Cameron’s tax avoidance (for a similar reason), Zahawi, despite paying a penalty to HMRC for his behaviour, has not been so lucky.
Sunak has ultimately taken a jurisdictional approach to this current tax issue, especially when pressed upon the issue in Prime Ministers’ Questions, with Sunak claiming to have appointed an independent advisor to overlook the matter. The leader of the opposition Kier Starmer has challenged Sunak on the issue, pondering how the unpaid tax affairs had been able to pass under Sunak’s nose so easily, especially considering there was an investigation over the Chancellor regarding this for some time. The line being pursued by Starmer is that Sunak has not taken action by appointing an independent advisor but been forced to act.
This controversy has led to more eyes on the Prime Minister and his cohort of members as he tries to wheedle his way out of the awkward questioning, instead trying to change the course of the debate by pointing out the Leader of the Opposition’s collaboration with Corbyn or the alleged antisemitism in the party. While an ineffective attempt, the UK public is left to mull over what was mentioned at the PMQs, wondering if, as Starmer asks, the job ‘is too big for him.’
While tax scandals paint our present image of the Tory party, it was not too long ago that the Partygate scandal was carving out a path of destruction for the party’s image, with its piles of penalties, misunderstandings, and changes of story, that ultimately bought down Johnson.
If a general election had taken place on 2 February, the Labour party would have won a landslide majority.
This recent history will affect the party as it adds to a persistent image of untrustworthiness, instability, and failure. Polls reflect this distrust and favour the Labour party winning outright to an exponential degree. According to Politico, if a general election had taken place on 2 February, the Labour party would have won a landslide majority, with 48% of the votes. The Conservatives would have won a measly 27%
While it was predicted that Labour would have won 52% of the votes in October, at the time of Sunak’s appointment, much of this was mounted at Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, and her poor decision-making. But many still see the appointment of Sunak as illegitimate and his authority therefore questionable. And with the history of scandals that the Party history has to offer, the British public may be less convinced that the Conservative Party is the best to handle the country’s finances.
Clearly, there is a deep-rooted issue of scandals in the party. And this has been helpful ammunition for Keir Starmer as he applies more pressure, questioning the ability of a party rooted in scandal to have control of public services, public spending and tax. This insecurity will ultimately lead to scepticism over the suitability of the Tory party for the public. It will also allow swing voters and those in swing voter regions to reconsider whether the Tories have the good of the nation and its public services in mind.
This scandal will no doubt allow further criticisms to arise as people turn their attention to the mismanagement of the NHS, and the prison systems. The safety of the general public, and in particular women, will also begin to attract attention in the wake of the tragic murder of Zara Alina.
Lobbying scandals have also had a place in the Conservative Party. For example, under Johnson’s leadership, Conservatives became accused of protecting MP Owen Patterson after it became arguable that he had broken lobbying rules. The two companies involved paying the MP over £100,000 annually. However, the eventual plan to suspend Patterson mitigated damaging public trust.
If the persisting corruptibility in the ranks of the party continues, it could prove devastating.
Infighting also occurred with the alleged bullying that had taken place from within the party. Dominic Raab became under investigation for bullying incidents toward the end of last year. A similar incident occurred in the Summer of 2016, which led to a full report disclosing the alleged bullying amongst the party. Starmer also used this to criticise the party, citing Sunak as ‘weak’ in his action concerning the allegations.
The Conservative Party has attempted to overcome scandals hurting their election chances by targeting a significant enough portion of the population—those with fears presiding over immigration. Conservatives could potentially turn the tide by now appealing to those through the Rwanda Migration policy. This policy potentially takes focus away from other areas of concern and scandals of the party. This policy was implemented in a recent BBC Question Time by Tory MP Robert Jenrick, a plan echoed by many members of the party for months.
Critically how crimes are labelled and how they become felt changes how corruption can manifest. Harsher penalties can deter those inclined to avoid tax—as well as changes to the structure of legal systems and investigations.
To investigate individuals through private prosecution and take them to court. Court calendars must be worked around; therefore, individuals must have extensive knowledge of legal systems, potentially hindering prosecution. Therefore, this can shield many who may be subject to private investigation.
All in all, these scandals, in many ways, have persisted in both recent and past histories. Despite this, they have not always affected the electability of the Conservatives. It remains to be seen whether they have hindered Conservative chances at the next general election due to what seems a significant loss of trust in the party to run the country. Moreover, the significant instability felt in the nation in recent times could foster some sense of resentment and a need for change. Ultimately to see how this plays out, we must wait and see. Although, if the persisting corruptibility in the ranks of the party continues, it could prove devastating enough to see a Labour majority in 2025. Furthermore, the conditions of a faltering economy and genuine unrest do, in fact, mirror similar conditions that led to a Labour majority in 1997. Thus this could prove to be a moment of history repeating itself.