Recent events in the news got me curious about (British) politicians throughout history who’ve been found guilty of crimes, and what their punishments were.
There’s a fascinating history going back hundreds of years, but I think it’s a good time to discuss a few of the most recent ones.
I’ve gathered here a selection of politicians who’ve been convicted of crimes. This isn’t opinion, it is fact and on the public record.
Examples of politicians convicted and punished
Take a look at this Wikipedia list of British politicians convicted of crimes over the years. There are so many that it can shock even the most loyal supporter, of any party. Here are a few random lowlights that I have picked from the list. (If any details are innacurate please blame Wikipedia).
- Bob Spink, Conservative, UKIP, Independent – convicted for electoral fraud in 2017, given six month suspended prison sentence.
- Charles Elphicke, Conservative, former whip and Lord Commissioner of the Treasury – convicted of sexual assault in 2020, served two years in prison.
- Tom Wise, UKIP MEP, ex policeman – Served two years in prison for false accounting and money laundering.
- Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat – convicted for Perverting the course of justice, he tried to get out of a speeding ticket by consipring with his wife. Both were sentenced to 8 months in prison in 2013.
- Ashley Mote, UKIP, served 9 months in prison for benefit fraud in 2007 and was jailed for 5 years in 2015 after falsely claiming £500,000 in expenses.
The good news? In each of the above cases, some kind of punishment was issued following the guilty verdict (setting aside whether it was enough of a punishment!). Going back centuries into history the punishments for crimes in the ruling class range from prison terms to public beheadings, but always there was a pattern of consistency that guilty verdicts were always accompanied by punishment. Never did a guilty verdict have no punitive measure attached. Until now.
Something has changed
Lately the punishments have stopped happening and politicians are developing some kind of herd immunity to criminal justice. Over the last 2-3 years there has been much wrongdoing, confirmed wrong by courts, but with little or no punishment accompanying the verdict. No sentence handed out for a guilty verdict. No justice. And the perpetrators are becoming more senior and more brazen in their flouting of laws, often laws which they had a hand in creating.
It used to be said that every institution has a “few bad apples”. It was rare that such bad apples sat upon the front benches of power. Perhaps now though, what has changed is that the bad apples have floated to the top.
Senior people, serious crimes, zero punishment
So as recently as 2013, justice did seem to apply to politicians; a politician, like anyone else, could be sent to prison because of trying to get out of a speeding ticket.
Now, though, figureheads of British government appear utterly immune to any and all retribution for their crimes, even as serious as lying to the Queen or sidestepping legal checks on public spending.
Earlier this year, the Home Secretary Priti Patel was found guilty of bullying after a long and detailed inquiry. She was found to have breached ministerial code. She kept her job and did not recieve any punishment. Boris Johnson gave her his full backing and was rumoured to have instructed his colleagues to “Form a square around the Pritster”. With such blind and one might say gang-like loyalty at the top of government, it is little wonder the law has lost its grip there.
Remember we are talking about a Prime Minister who himself broke the law on at least one occasion, and has been caught lying on many occasions in his career. Boris Johnson in 2019 Unlawfully suspended parliament to great uproar, having allegedly lied to the Queen herself about his reasons for doing so, but ultimately no punishment came to him. The law, he’d learned by then, applied only when he chose it to.
More recently Johnson’s Secretary of State for Health And Social Care, Matthew Hancock, Unlawfully handed out PPE contracts privately without publishing the details in line with rules in 2021. His punishment was essentially a ten minute tickle on Sunday morning telly, in which he refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, arrogantly reducing the issue to a mere technicality.
At organisational level, mere slapped wrists seem to suffice in order to smooth the course for political agendas. These examples relate to the campaign groups of the 2016 European Union membership referrendum.
These were gentle slaps on sweaty wrists. They were not punishments in any real sense, and the individuals concerned have long since slithered back under rocks.
New and inventive defences have spewed out of the guilty in recent times. Not denial of guilt, but creative ways of justifying or mitigating the wrongdoings. Here’s a couple.
The “I did what I thought was best” defence – No example better illustrates it perhaps than the PM’s ex chief advisor Dominic Cummings who both crafted and broke the original Covid lockdown laws. His only punishment was an uncomfortable ten minutes in the rose garden. For Johnson to actually sack Cummings it took a dodgy text message about his girlfriend several months later.
The “I only broke the law in a limited and specific way” defence – And then we have some wildly conceited cases which illustrate outrageous contempt for the law. In December of 2020, Boris Johnson’s bulldozed Brexit was proudly declared to intentionally “Break international law in a very limited and specific way“, leading to a barage of humourous internet memes but frankly not much else. A whole new defence was born, that of yes m’lud, I was breaking the law, but only in a specific and limited way. Needless to say, leader of the oppisition (and former legal professional) Kier Starmer wasn’t impressed. But Starmer was powerless and no actual punishment came forth.
The “I was too busy and under too much pressure to worry about the law” defence – Matthew Hancock, (not Matt), in February 2021 was found guilty of acting unlawfully in his allocation of PPE contracts without declaring them, seems unable to acknowledge any guilt, simply saying he was highly stressed and under great pressure to deliver quickly, so that’s why he broke the law. Resign? Not a chance. Apologise? Never. He could not give the slightest of shits about the court’s findings against him.
If it was OK for everyone to break the law every time they felt stressed, what sort of country would this would become?
Can you imagine, if it was OK for everyone to break the law every time they felt stressed, what sort of country this would become? Especially now! The whole point of all law is precisely this. It exists so that agreed mimimum behaviours are followed by all of us, no matter what the circumstances.
It disgusts me that certain people assume some kind of excemption from laws, especially when those people are in positions of power and influence, meaning the consequences of their illegality affect millions of us. Shame on them and shame on all who support them.
This is not normal
In what other job on Earth would you be found guilty of criminal behaviour and not only keep your job but also be afforded the privelage of going on television seeking praise for your actions? The situation is staggeringly and horrifyingly normalised.
Mission accomplished, job kept, justice evaded.
We have an environment now (in the UK), in which the leaders of our nation can happily stand up and proclaim an intention to break the law, duly break the law, go to court, are found guilty, and do not care because there will be no recourse. They squirm and slither and slide free of all consequence, their disgusting selves lubricated by power and money and corruption. Mission accomplished, job kept, justice evaded.
And this happens so much that it has become expected. It has become normal. But this is not normal.
Think about that. Think about the implications. Not only the example they set to the public, but the reputation it gives our country on the global stage. Moreover, if those at the top are enabled to act unlawfully they will not be in a position to sack or reprimand those in lower positions for illegality in office. The result, a teeming vipers’ nest of corrupted power and dishonesty.
Now think of how you will explain it to your children, when they are old enough to ask how these people got away with it.
Thankfully we have the likes of The Good Law Project to at least bring these matters to court, but even they seem powerless to enforce any kind of punishment at the end of the process.
At worst it is a mockery of justice itself.
A conviction without a punishment is only half of justice, at best. At worst it is a mockery of justice itself.
If you have concerns about any illegality by any member of parliament then please write to your MP. We can make this better. We can hope for justice to be even handed, and equal to everyone no matter their level of power. Make sure your MP knows your feelings on the matter.