Dodgy donors, crumbling conventions, crooked kickbacks and sexual shenanigans – it’s a tough old time for decency in public life. So it’s a good thing then that we have Chris Bryant, the honourable member for Rhondda, to act as a one-man sleaze buster, battling heroically against those dastardly Tory tyrants. Everywhere Mr S looks, Bryant is found: on air, in print, online, bewailing and bemoaning this rotten government in his Grand Poobah title of Chairman of the Committee on Standards. With quivering lip and pointed finger, he decries, berates and castigates, lacerating ministers with a self-righteous sermon or twenty.
But is the moral high ground really so different to life in the sewer? Mr S has been taking a look at the Labour man’s record and it’s worth recounting, in light of Bryant’s frequent and continued public lectures. Especially given his propensity to make the same mistakes over and over again…
Bryant’s most recent gaffes have come in his capacity as chair of the aforementioned Standards Committee, a post which he has held since May 2020. This role affords him a prominent position in parliament, along with an extra £16,000 alongside his MPs’ salary of almost £82,000. But with such power comes great responsibility and an inherent tension between the aims and aspirations of the committee and the behaviour of its all too-human members.
Just last week, Bryant was forced to make a formal court acceptance of error to a billionaire financier he accused in parliament of money laundering, after facing action for repeating the claims in a tweeted letter. In a 2018 Commons debate, he accused Christopher Chandler, a New Zealand-born investor and co-founder of a London-based thinktank, of links to Russian intelligence. While MPs are protected by parliamentary privilege for what they say in the chamber, meaning they cannot be sued, in March this year Bryant sent a tweet that included a letter in which he quoted the comments, prompting Chandler to take action.
It's not the first time Bryant’s rhetoric has been somewhat careless. Back in March, at the height of MPs’ anger towards Putin enablers, the Labour MP told the Commons that Nigel Farage received ‘£548,573 from Russia Today in 2018 alone—this is from the Russian state’ and suggested he should be sanctioned. Yet, as Mr S pointed out at the time, the former Ukip leader made barely a handful of appearances on the network, for fees totally less than £10,000. Bryant, who incidentally appeared on the same network, is yet to retract his claims.
That’s not all too: among Bryant’s more hyperbolic historic claims include suggesting the 2016 attempted Turkish coup was linked to Brexit. He also drew ire from across the pond in 2017 for suggesting that the sitting President Donald Trump should be arrested during his impending visit to the United Kingdom for ‘inciting religious hatred’. The Washington Examiner was quick to pick up on Bryant’s televised remarks, noting that anyone who tried such an arrest may not enjoy the Secret Service’s measures to protect the President.
Back in 2012, Bryant had to offer a grovelling apology to both the House and Lord Leveson after he used inaccurate evidence from the latter’s inquiry to accuse David Cameron at PMQs of lying about meetings with Rupert Murdoch. Bryant was criticised by Leveson for ‘a total disregard of the terms of the confidentiality agreement’ and for using erroneous evidence that was uncorrected, unpublished, confidential and yet to be checked and published by his inquiry.
For the man who oversees the watchdog on MPs’ interests, Bryant has a history that is sub-optimal. He was forced to declare in June 2021 that, almost two years late, he realised he should register an overseas visit to Poland. Bryant was subsequently forced to apologise, after being found in 'breach of paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament.' In his evidence he declared that 'I simply cannot explain how the registration slipped my mind in 2019’ before telling the BBC that ‘our rules are too complicated, but frankly I’m just an idiot because I forgot – I’ve no excuse whatsoever.’ Whoops!
Speaking of interests, Bryant is a veteran of the 2009 expenses scandal and fears a repeat of that happening again. He told the Telegraph in April 2022 that recent scandals with MPs were ‘in danger of being worse than the expenses scandal… every generation of MPs is a set of guardians for the reputation of Parliament, and all those shenanigans last year did a lot of damage to trust in Parliament.’
Well, he would know. Bryant was named in 2015 as one of 46 parliamentarians who had charged the taxpayer for rent to stay in London since 2012 despite owning a home there. According to a Channel 4 investigation, Bryant, the then Shadow Culture Minister, claimed £35,350 in 2012/13 and 2013/14 on expenses to rent a flat in London despite owning a two-bed penthouse with a private lift and porter, which was being offered to let for £3,000 a month. Bryant did not respond to requests for comment on either story.
For a man who puts the standards in ‘Standards Committee’, Bryant’s language hasn’t, er, always been the most parliamentary at times. He was accused in December 2020 of storming out of the chamber after telling Speaker Lindsay Hoyle in an altercation to ‘fuck off,’ a charge that Bryant denied, although he did subsequently apologise to Hoyle. He also told Dan Wooton in an interview that ‘You’re a nutcase. You’re a complete and utter nutcase.’ Bryant’s best moment though was when he accepted the 2022 ‘Civility in Politics Award’ in June 2022, despite mocking Lord Frost as an ‘idiot’ and declaring sarcastically it was ‘such a shame you didn’t feel the need to put yourself up for election.’ This was only a month after Bryant sought to add ‘respect’ to the Parliamentary Behaviour Code.
An unlikely crossing of paths occurred in 2015 when Bryant, the then new Shadow Minister for the Arts, criticised some of Britain’s posher thespians for being successful in the arts, stating: ‘we can’t just have a culture dominated by Eddie Redmayne and James Blunt and their ilk’. While Old Etonian actor Redmayne remained quiet, Blunt, an Old Harrovian and former cavalry officer, was quick to respond to Bryant – himself a member of Blunt’s posh ‘ilk’ as an Old Cheltonian. Blunt criticised Bryant’s ‘populist, envy-based, vote-hunting ideas which make our country crap, far more than me and my shit songs, and my plummy accent’, before signing off his letter to the ‘classist gimp’ and ‘prejudiced wazzock’ Bryant as ‘James Cucking Funt.’
Not bad, eh? Still, at least Bryant's highlights reel isn't as bad as Zarah Sultana's...