Angela Rayner speaking at the Institute for Government
Angela Rayner speaking at the Institute for Government

In an excellent speech to the Institute for Government, Angela Rayner has set out Labour’s plan to ensure that politicians serve the public, not themselves, with the creation of a new government ethics watchdog.

The stream of scandals we’ve seen from this Tory Government have undermined people’s confidence and trust in politicians. From a Prime Minister who broke the rules and lied about them to scandals of cronyism and sleaze, we’ve seen far too many examples of those in high office circumventing or ignoring rules for their own gain.

We deserve so much better than this current Tory sleaze. Our current system is far too reliant on leaders acting in good faith and a theory that those who rise to high office will be “good chaps”. But this has been broken by the Conservatives.

Labour will turn the page on Tory sleaze. Our plans to introduce an ethics watchdog will clean up politics and restore integrity. As politicians, we are here to serve the public, not ourselves, and politics has to work for people.

A Labour government will retore trust in politics, so by the end of our first term people don’t just feel better off, they can see that politics is working for them.


You can read Angela Rayner’s speech in full below:


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The last time I was here, speaking on the topic of standards, a little over 18 months ago.

The Government was embroiled in scandal, ministers were under siege, and rumours of a reshuffle were swirling around Westminster.

So a lot has changed since then – and perhaps some things haven’t.

Since I made that speech, the theory of “good chaps” has been tested to the point of destruction.

It has long been assumed – mostly by those who think of themselves as the “good chaps” in question – that all those who rise to high office will be such “good chaps,’”

People who understand and respect the rules, and can be trusted to follow them.

The system relies on leaders acting in good faith.

A system that has surely now been toppled.

Some of those at the top were not such ‘good chaps’ after all.

Ministers willing to find new ways to circumvent the rules, or ignore them for their own political advantage.

Take Boris Johnson, just as a random example.

A very effective confidence trickster.

He certainly sounded like the typical good chap.

But I don’t think there are many serious people who’d call him that now.

From unlawfully proroguing parliament.

To breeding a culture of rule-breaking at the heart of Downing Street during a global pandemic..

Then lying about it.

He tried to abolish the independent parliamentary standards system when he didn’t like the ruling about his mate Owen Paterson.

Then he rewrote the Ministerial Code to suit his own interests, putting the very standards that underpin our democracy through the shredder.

But much as he might like it to be, this isn’t all about him!

His colleagues on the Conservative benches, including the current Prime Minister, enabled and propped him up.

Rishi Sunak, as Chancellor, watched as Britain’s standards regime was taken apart, piece by piece.

Rather than choosing to rebuild it, he chose to preserve the regime he inherited from his predecessor.

A system that saw the previous two ethics watchdogs walk out in disgust.

His argument seems to be the very one I opened with.

The system doesn’t need changing, because he’s a good chap.

But I’m afraid Boris Johnson wasn’t just one bad apple.

Over the last decade, standards in public life have been relentlessly eroded by Tory sleaze and scandal.

From serial breaches of the Ministerial Code to the revolving door between Ministerial Office and lobbying.

Where resignations used to be rare, they have become the norm.

Ministers have been forced from government on misconduct grounds every three months under the current Prime Minister’s leadership.

If you include the four Conservative prime ministers forced out since 2010, a total of 39 Cabinet ministers have either been sacked, quit in disgrace, or resigned.

The rot starts at the top.

Just weeks ago, we were in the absurd situation where the Chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments wrote to the government to criticise the rules that his organisation is responsible for upholding.

Lord Pickles – a former Conservative Party Chairman – joined a host of independent regulators to call for wholesale reform of the business appointment rules and stronger restrictions on lobbying jobs for former Ministers.

In a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Pickles said the current rules were “designed to offer guidance when ‘good chaps’ could be relied on to observe the letter and the spirit of the rules”.

He goes on to say… “If [the good chaps] ever existed, that time has long passed and the contemporary world has outgrown the rules…New areas of corruption are not monitored because they were not envisaged when the Rules were drawn up.”

Holding any position in public life should mean upholding the highest standards of ethics and integrity.

But the cronyism, sleaze and scandal we’ve seen over the past decade has undermined trust in politics and public life at home and abroad.

This year, Britain has received its lowest score on record on Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

The drop sends a powerful message about the decline in public standards, which is no doubt being noticed on the world stage.

The sense that Britain is becoming a corrupt country is deeply damaging to our international standing, the health of our democracy and the success of our economy.

We can take that lesson from Rishi Sunak’s predecessor – though he’d like us to forget her.

She showed pretty clearly what happens when rules and institutions are recklessly undermined.

Our ability to attract international investment and trade is directly related to faith in the stability of our government.

We are living with the consequences of that faith being undermined.

So this matters.

Misconduct and sleaze has a direct impact on a government’s ability to deliver for the public.

Transparent and accountable government is key to delivery.

Cleaning up politics is about ensuring government actually delivers for the people.

While Rishi Sunak was distracted appointing his latest ethics adviser.

Or re-hashing the Ministerial Code.

Or dealing with an investigation into his own Deputy.

Or the resignations of three senior Ministers

During all these times, he was distracted from delivering on the people’s priorities.

And failing to prepare for a cost-of-living crisis

Or prevent a housing crisis.

By failing to prepare, he prepared to fail.

And fail he has.

Rising bills.

Soaring food prices.

Families unable to make ends meet.

A crashed economy.

A Tory Mortgage Bombshell.

It is working people who pay the price – every single tme.

This is not public service.

Politics has to work for people – not for politicians.

We are not the masters.

The people are the masters.

We are their servants.

Now, I want to pay tribute to a Conservative. I know, I don’t do it often!

But Sir John Major must be commended for his work in establishing the Committee on Standards in Public Life nearly three decades ago.

He set up this independent body in the wake of the last bout of sleaze and scandal running rife in the Tory Party.

He, at least, recognised there was a problem.

For more than thirty years it has promoted and defended the Seven Principles of Public Life – the Nolan Principles.

And it continues to speak truth to power.

A recent CSPL Report found that proper procedure is too easily ignored or disregarded, while the systems that “are supposed to uphold the rules are not working well”.

As Sir John said of the Committee in his foreword to the report:

“The Committee will never be redundant. A minority will evade or misinterpret the rules of proper behaviour. The rules will always need regular updating to meet changing expectations in many areas.”

But 18 months and three Conservative Prime Ministers on, this Government hasn’t even had the decency to respond.

We heard yesterday that government will respond to their report “by summer recess” – I won’t hold my breath.

Of course, we now have a Prime Minister who promised to bring ‘integrity, professionalism and accountability’ to the job.

But it’s clearer each day that he’s failing to deliver any of them.

Now I don’t believe most people who go into public life do so with bad intentions – far from it.

“Bad chaps” are a feature of our system, not part of its DNA.

But they are a feature our system is ill-equipped to deal with.

As the full saying goes, “a few bad apples, rots the barrel”.

The best protection is a system that is intolerant to abuse of power, with proper checks and balances.

A system with foundations that can withstand a change in the weather – even if that weather is a hurricane threatening to rip the house down.

But to build that foundation we need to replace the weakened standards regime with new architecture.

We need to empower the public servants dedicated to protecting our democracy and raising standards within government.

That’s why Labour has a plan to restore standards in public life.

We will clean up politics, so that by the end of our first term people don’t just feel better off, they can see that politics is working for them, not for Westminster.

So today I am setting out how a Labour government will clean up our politics and restore that trust.

Never again will a Prime Minister and Ministers be able to break the rules with impunity because the rules are too weak.

Under the next Labour government the rules will be strengthened.

Enforcement will be toughened up, independent of political control.

Labour’s new Independent Ethics & Integrity Commission will oversee and enforce standards in Government, ending the current situation in which the Prime Minister is the judge and jury on every case of ministerial misconduct.

We will create a new, genuinely independent Ethics and Integrity Commission

A more robust system to replace the failing aspects of the old system and restore public trust.

This starts with replacing ACOBA, with a more robust system for former ministers seeking new appointments.

With former ministers facing clear sanctions for breaking lobbying rules. Not just the possibility of being overlooked for an honour, but consequences they can feel in their pockets.

Second, the Commission will subsume the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests.

It will have the power to initiate investigations into ministers without asking permission from the Prime Minister.

It will be able to determine breaches, and again recommend sanctions.

All with full transparency.

All free from political interference.

No longer will the Prime Minister be able to hide behind his Adviser to avoid scrutiny.

Consideration will also be given about whether the Public Appointments Commissioner and Civil Service Commission should be brought under the new Ethic Commission’s umbrella.

Thirdly – we won’t reinvent the wheel.

Existing bodies that have been undermined and weakened by Tory Ministers – namely ACOBA and the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests  – will be brought under the Ethics & Integrity Commission, operationally independent and free of Government control.

But the Ethics & Integrity Commission will coordinate and work with the existing bodies and committees that do work.

The Commission will be complementary, not competitive, creating a more coherent approach to public standards with a culture of integrity.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life will continue to play a crucial role at the centre of the standards landscape, informing the work and recommendations made by the Ethics & Integrity Commission.

Fourth – we will remove the power to appoint the ethics watchdog from the hands of the Prime Minister entirely.

At the moment, the public, entirely understandably, think that politicians themselves are the judges of their own behaviour and let themselves get away with it.

We will inject confidence into the system with a parliamentary backstop. There will be a robust appointments process with a nominated parliamentary committee involved in the process, with the Commission required to report to Parliament annually.

Finally – the risk of political capture or interference in the Commission’s work will be removed by putting the Commission on a statutory footing.

We are clear that the Ethics and Integrity Commission will not affect the parliamentary standards process.

A clear separation between MPs’ standards, and Ministerial standards is a central pillar of British democracy.

We know British democracy is finely balanced.

We are all too aware of the jenga-tower of our unwritten constitution.

Pull the wrong brick and risk creating a mountain of unintended consequences.

Labour will carry out a consultation to establish the next steps for the creation of an Ethics and Integrity Commission..

We will involve experts – many of whom are in the room today – including the Committee on Standards in Public Life and existing public standards regulators as well as governance experts.

But look – we know that no one is perfect – especially not politicians!

We can and will make mistakes.

But what I have laid out today will put the right system in place to ensure accountability and transparency across government.

I don’t think anyone in this room would disagree that the flaws in the present system must be remedied.

Labour aren’t shying away from the challenge.

And I know the people in this room and beyond aren’t either.

I just want to take a moment to say a huge thank you to the public servants – many of whom are in this room – working in the face of huge resistance to try and improve standards in public life.

I am hopeful that this new body will make your lives easier, empowering you to do your job without resistance.

Because this is personal for many of you. The scandals I have mentioned have a detrimental impact on the reputation of the bodies you work for.

We want to change that. To create robust protections with independent and transparent systems to take action against those who abuse the system.

I am determined to make this happen  – and Labour has a track record of delivering in this area.

Labour governments throughout history have made a habit of finding a mess and cleaning it up!

Three decades ago now, a Labour opposition exposed the sleaze engulfing the Conservative Party, and demanded better.

In government, we legislated to create more robust systems.

From the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act, to the Electoral Commission, the Freedom of Information Act and the Ministerial Code.

The last Labour Government did not hesitate to act decisively to clean up British public life.

But over the last thirteen years of a Tory Government, the strong standards we set have been chipped away.

The last Labour government didn’t get everything right – and it got some things wrong.

It did, however, make a lasting improvement on standards in public life.

But – and I don’t say this lightly – it wasn’t enough.

When the last Labour Government overhauled standards in government,they couldn’t foresee the untold damage that could be caused by one government.

A government full of ministers who think it’s one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us.

Our democracy cannot hinge on gentlemen’s agreements, it needs independent and robust protection.

A Labour government will clean up our politics and restore that trust – with the Nolan principles at the heart of everything we do.

We must now urgently rebuild trust in our politics, in public office and in government as a force for good. That means rebuilding the regime that is not working.

The British people deserve so much better.

It will be a Labour government that cleans up our politics.

It will be a Labour government that restores faith in public service – politicians serving the public, not themselves.

It will be a Labour government that provides that leadership.

It’s time to stop the rot.

And make our politics a force for good again.

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