LOOKING over the wasteland that the political landscape now resembles, it’s hard to believe that there is actually a set of rules that are supposed to set down standards to guide the behaviour of those who serve and represent the public.

Those rules are known as the Nolan principles and were set out in 1995 by Lord Nolan – surprise, surprise – in the first report of the Committee on Standards of Public Life. There are seven principles and it’s instructive to remind ourselves what they are:

  • Selflessness: Holders of public office should act only in terms of the public interest.
  • Integrity: Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
  • Objectivity: Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
  • Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
  • Openness: Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
  • Honesty: Holders of public office should be truthful.
  • Leadership: Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour and treat others with respect. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

The standards should apply to:

  • Those elected or appointed to public office, nationally or locally.
  • Those appointed to work in the civil service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, Non-Departmental Public Bodies, and in the health, education, social and care services.
  • Those in the private sector delivering public services.

None of these seven rules seem to me particularly controversial, open to misinterpretation or hugely ambitious. Most of you would surely think of them as the bare minimum we are entitled to expect.

But as the inquiry trundles on into the UK Government’s actions during the Covid pandemic it behoves us to ask how many were adhered to?

What have we learned from the inquiry? Back in June, we were told that UK planning for the pandemic was “completely wrong”. Who said so? Former health secretary Matt Hancock, who was supposed to have been in charge of that planning.

Hancock, of course, resigned from his job – but not because he accepted any responsibility for the “completely wrong” planning. He had to go after The Sun published photographs of him embracing a colleague inside the Department of Health and Social Care in clear breach of Covid regulations.

When giving evidence at the Covid inquiry, Hancock tried to dismiss suggestions he had lied during his time in office and described the atmosphere of the government in which he served as “toxic”.

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Since his resignation, the former health secretary enjoyed a lucrative gig appearing on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, which paid him £320,000 (although he says he paid £10,000 of that to charity). Worst of all, he paved the way for Nigel Farage to appear on the same show, with the dreadful results we have already seen on our TV screens.

It’s not just the Covid inquiry which has suggested Westminster Conservative politicians are on only passing acquaintance with the Nolan principals.

Boris Johnson was reprimanded by the parliamentary standards committee in July 2021 after accepting a free holiday in a luxury villa organised by Carphone Warehouse boss David Ross.

Later that year, former Tory minister Owen Paterson was found to have committed an egregious breach of the lobbying rules after lobbying the Government on behalf of two companies paying him more than £100,000 a year.

Johnson again found himself in the frame for “corruption” when he looked for cash from a Tory donor to help cover the £112,000 makeover of his Downing Street flat. He was also referred to the parliamentary standards watchdog after discussing a guarantee for a personal loan of up to £800,000 with Richard Sharp, just weeks before recommending Sharp for the chairmanship of the BBC.

Even after Rishi Sunak took over as Prime Minister, the stench continued. Former Tory chairman Nadhim Zahawi admitted to settling a reportedly multimillion-pound tax dispute while serving as UK chancellor under Johnson.

The National: Michelle Mone is symptomatic of a party uncaring of standards in public lifeMichelle Mone is symptomatic of a party uncaring of standards in public life

Conservative peer Michelle Mone has been at the centre of allegations – which she has strenuously denied – that she and her husband secretly received tens of millions of pounds from the profits of a company she had helped gain a place on the list of government-approved suppliers of Covid-related items.

The Guardian estimated that the company – PPE Medpro – along with Mone, her husband and three other companies, had made more than £100m in profits from government contracts.

It is the ongoing Covid inquiry which has dragged the litany of Tory scandals back under the glare of public scrutiny.

Just yesterday, Johnson was forced to revisit a 2020 trip by his then main adviser Dominic Cummings to Barnard Castle in breach of Covid rules, a trip he now describes as “a bad moment”.

The worst moment for his government was when details emerged of parties held in Downing Street at the height of the pandemic. There will be no public forgiveness for the sight of Tory politicians dancing and drinking while families were prevented from visiting dying relatives.

Yesterday the disgraced former prime minister rejected the perception of mass rule-breaking within Downing Street as a “million miles away” from the truth.

That’s a description that many would suggest applies to Johnson’s own performance at the inquiry yesterday, when he tried to counter accusations that his behaviour suggested he was indifferent to the effects of the pandemic.

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It came as no surprise that his so-called apology for “the pain and loss” of Covid was rejected by Aamer Anwar, the lawyer acting for the Scottish Covid Bereaved Group.

The legacy of these Conservative governments at Westminster is deep public mistrust in politics and politicians which has tainted the very notion of public service.

They are not the only contributors to a certain disenchantment with those “elected or appointed to public office”. A report yesterday said Police Scotland is failing to challenge bad behaviour within its ranks. But it also reported that the organisation’s culture is improving.

The ongoing police investigation into the SNP’s finances may have put a cloud over the Scottish Government, but so far not a single allegation has resulted in any charges being brought.

It’s certainly true that the behaviour of Scotland’s Health Secretary Michael Matheson seems to fall below the Nolan standards and much of the public outcry over the £11,000 roaming charges bill to watch a football match on an iPad looks justified. But the scale hardly matches the long list of Tory scandals.

The public will soon get its chance to deliver its own verdict on the Tory Party and inflict the punishment for all the misdeeds I’ve mentioned and many more.

It looks certain that it will be kicked out of government although it’s less clear who Scotland will choose to represent its own views.

We can only pray that Keir Starmer’s recent statement embracing the values of Margaret Thatcher has woken up those considering placing any faith in Labour. But it’s also vital that we recognise that the upcoming General Election represents another opportunity to re-establish the importance of the Nolan principles to the proper governance of the UK, no matter which party is in power.

There should be – indeed, HAS to be – a bond of trust between the people and those who seek to govern us. The maintenance of that bond is the responsibility of politicians and those who have been in power in Westminster for these past decades have failed miserably in that duty. They need to be told in no uncertain terms that will not be accepted, even if it remains our ultimate aim to end Westminster rule.