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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

After hearing of ‘groping’ Tory MP Chris Pincher I have only two words

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Like absolutely everybody else with a passing interest in politics, my reaction to news that the deputy chief whip, Chris Pincher, had resigned after allegedly drunkenly groping two men at a well known Conservative private members club was to say the words, out loud, “not again.”

It is, very clearly and very certainly, not the first time the (now ex) deputy chief whip has been forced to resign over such allegations. The last time was in 2017, when he was said to have untucked the shirt of an ex-Olympic rower called Alex Story, massaged his neck and told him, “You’ll go far in the Conservative party.” Pincher denied it, resigned from the whips office, referred himself to police – and a Party investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.

Yet somehow, and this is a real mystery, Boris Johnson was, his spokesperson has said, “not aware of any specific allegation” against Pincher when he appointed him deputy chief whip earlier this year.

It is never clear, anymore, whether anyone is still expected to believe this stuff. It’s not merely that Johnson is a liar. His spokesperson has also apologised to the journalists it is his job to brief, every day, for knowingly lying to them about Partygate for months on end.

So it’s really anybody’s guess quite what the words are meant to mean, when it involves the spokesperson for a liar, who has also themselves apologised for lying, says something that a single celled organism can see cannot possibly be true.

Though the objective is as transparently obvious as ever, which is simply to get through the next five minutes by saying whatever words might vaguely do to get it over with.

Politico revealed this morning that previous claims about an “unnamed MP” who would be assigned a “minder” at social events to make sure he didn’t get too drunk and didn’t get in to trouble was, in fact, Pincher.

Does that sound at all dysfunctional? Well, yes and no. It’s certainly no more dysfunctional than the letter, on House of Commons notepaper, published by Pincher, that simply begins, “Dear Prime Minister, Last night I drank far too much. I’ve embarrassed myself.”

He certainly has. But he’s also not made it expressly clear what he’s resigned for. That job’s been left to others.

At time of first typing, Pincher had not lost the Tory whip. He remained a member of the party for most of Friday, before finally being suspended from the parliamentary party after an investigation was launched into alleged sexual misconduct.

Why did it take so long? Well, presumably because being accused of drunkenly groping people in public is, apparently, more or less fine as long as you apologise the moment it becomes clear the newspapers have got hold of it.

It can’t be easy for them. Few prime ministers have ever found themselves accidentally setting quite such a well calibrated sleaze barometer. The Tories just lost a by-election in Wakefield because the sitting MP was convicted of sexually assaulting a child.

In Tiverton, the situation was less clear. Though the details are not 100 per cent clear, what is now commonly understood to have happened is that the now ex-MP, Neil Parish, had been googling a type of tractor called a Dominator and then stumbled across some pornography that he decided to have a look at. Later, when very bored in the House of Commons, he appeared to have done it again.

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This is a transgression that has cost Parish his career, and it is very hard not to say quite right too. But is it as bad as drunkenly “groping” people, as he is alleged to have done, in allegations that, on the surface of things, seem quite hard to differentiate from sexual assault?

Pincher’s seat is Tamworth, which he holds by a majority of 20,000. It’s an important constituency in Tory party history. Robert Peel was its MP when he published the Tamworth Manifesto of 1834, considered to be the founding document on the modern Conservative party.

You would, at this point, be brave to bet against it also being the end.

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