Did the privileges committee really need to bother with a report scolding a number of Boris Johnson’s supporters for what it has called a ‘co-ordinated campaign of interference’ in its work?
Today it has published its verdict on seven MPs and one peer, Lord Goldsmith. This special report finds ‘disturbing’ examples of behaviour designed to pressure, intimidate and undermine the committee. None of these examples took place within the Commons, as the Speaker had made a ruling against abuse of the committee. Instead, the report says, there was a ‘campaign waged outside parliament’ which ‘used newspapers and radio and there was extensive use of social media’.
This behaviour did not affect the outcome of the committee’s inquiry, but ‘it had a significant personal impact on individual members and raised significant security concerns’. Some of the most important examples, in the committee’s view, include Nadine Dorries arguing on TalkTV that the committee was always going to find Johnson guilty and that the Conservative members of the committee might find their careers would benefit from punishing Johnson.
Another example was Lord Goldsmith retweeting a description of the inquiry as a ‘kangaroo court’ and saying himself that ‘there was only ever going to be one outcome and the evidence was totally irrelevant to it’. Michael Fabricant tweeted that historians would examine ‘the question of calibre, malice and prejudice’. The list goes on, as have many of those named in it: they have variously been arguing that this report undermines the free speech of members and that it contains inaccuracies.
The free speech argument is probably the more compelling in that it makes the committee seem thin-skinned and unable to take criticism or feedback. But the reason that it was important to pursue this has little to do with the feelings of individual members – even though the committee chose to emphasise this aspect.