Such high standards do not appear to trouble Nadhim Zahawi MP, who remains defiant as a Cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party.
While he has admitted that HM Revenue and Customs found he had committed a “careless and not deliberate” error – reportedly resulting in a penalty of £1 million – Zahawi clearly believes that such a mistake is no resigning issue. We disagree.
Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak has ordered his ethics adviser to conduct an investigation, accusing Labour leader Keir Starmer of “simple political opportunism” and “petty politics” in calling for Zahawi to be sacked. However, the existence of a code of ethics and an ethics adviser does not mean that Sunak must suspend his own judgment entirely. And if the ethics adviser is being used as a shield for wrongdoing or incompetence, in the hope that scandals will blow over, then the post becomes part of the problem, rather than a solution.
Even if Zahawi is cleared of breaching the ministerial code, this is unlikely to appease the public, which rightly demands high standards of its elected representatives. It is simply not acceptable for a member of the government to make a mistake that results in an underpayment of tax by several million pounds.
This is also not Zahawi’s first mistake of this kind. In 2013, it emerged he had claimed expenses as an MP to pay for electricity used at stables attached to a property he owned. The multi-millionaire eventually apologised, saying he had made a mistake, and promised to repay part of a £5,800 expenses claim for his energy bills.
Zahawi should resign or be sacked, if only to teach him the value of other people’s money. However, the problem is more serious than just his political career. Following the multiple ethical scandals that have engulfed the government in recent years, such behaviour adds to the growing risk of widespread public disillusionment with politics and perhaps democracy itself, with potentially alarming consequences for us all.