Boris Johnson's £800,000 loan, Nadhim Zahawi's multi-million-pound tax blunder and Rishi Sunak's seatbelt fine damage democracy – Scotsman comment

Just when Rishi Sunak thought he’d stabilised the ship, the Conservative party has been rocked by a series of damaging waves largely of their own making.

It has now emerged that Boris Johnson, in 2020 when he was Prime Minister, was in such financial trouble that he needed a small fortune. Happily for him, his friend Richard Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, was able to put Johnson in touch with someone willing to act as guarantor of an £800,000 loan.

Just a few weeks later, Johnson chose Sharp to be the new BBC chairman. While both Johnson and Sharp deny any wrongdoing, it hardly looks good.

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Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Conservative party chair Nadhim Zahawi was ordered to settle a tax bill and pay a penalty charge, together totalling several million pounds, by HM Revenue and Customs, during the time he was briefly Chancellor. His actions were officially “careless”, but not criminal.

All this money swilling around the corridors of power shows how far removed some elected representatives are from the lives of everyday people. Even some who might be considered relatively well-off have found the past year a struggle as the cost of living has soared.

So the idea Johnson needed £800,000 just to tide him over – while serving as Prime Minister – will strike many as incomprehensible. And, as former Conservative Cabinet minister Rory Stewart pointed out, it’s also a security risk because such a person would be “too vulnerable to pressure and conflicts of interest”. “Vetting would argue against them becoming a junior civil servant. They should certainly not be PM,” he tweeted.

The third incident might prompt some sympathy for Sunak. Failing to wear a seatbelt is perhaps not the most heinous of crimes and if it was a momentary lapse, many would forgive him. However, this is the second time Sunak has been fined for breaking the law in less than a year, following his and Johnson’s fines for breaking their own lockdown laws.

The impression created by all this, of lavish lifestyles, incompetence, cronyism and a disdain for the rules, is bad for the Conservative party, but also for democracy as a whole. A country led by such people risks moral decay as cynicism about the way of the world spreads.

Rishi Sunak's new administration has been rocked by a series of damaging revelations (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

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