Earlier this week, we wrote that Downing Street and CCHQ now want to close down the rumpus over Boris Johnson and the burka. That would suggest a speedy decision not to refer Johnson to “panel consisting of no fewer than three people”, as the Conservative Party’s Code of Conduct puts it. But there is, as yet, no news either way. Perhaps the plan is to let the ripples stirred by the row quieten down, and save such an announcement for a rainy day. After all, that was the way in which the case of Anne Marie Morris was dealt with. Suspended from the Parliamentary Party last July for using the phrase “nigger in the woodpile”, she was readmitted to it last December.
However, there is a procedural difference between the two cases. Morris was suspended before the code was introduced last November. The Chief Whip simply took a decision to withdraw the whip – at, it was reported, the request of Theresa May herself. “I immediately asked the Chief Whip to suspend the party whip,” she was quoted as saying at the time. It followed that since Julian Smith could remove the whip, he could also restore it.
The Johnson case, however, is being considered under the terms of the code. This assigns to an “investigating officer” the right, first, to consider complaints and then, second, to refer them a panel if he believes it is right to do so. ConservativeHome is told that this person is a lawyer who, though of course appointed by the Party, must reach his own decision, as a lawyer must properly do.
Readers will remember that CCHQ used Clifford Chance to conduct an inquiry into bullying in the wake of the tragic suicide of Elliott Johnson. We are also told that a decision on the Johnson complaints is expected this week: after all, it can’t take that long to reach one. CCHQ and Downing Street are apparently anxious that the investigating officer will refer Johnson to a panel after all – thus throwing a lorry-load of petrol on a fire that has been simmering down. If so, it will be a consequence of the Party exchanging the old system of informal understandings for the new one of a written code. It is still more likely than not that there won’t be a referral, but one never knows.