Party or Parliament, what’s more important if you are elected to the House of Commons?
It is a simple question that MPs will be asking themselves this afternoon as they begin to deliberate on last Thursday’s explosive report from the Privileges Committee.
The observations about Boris Johnson’s lying to Parliament over the partygate affair led to the former prime minister quitting as an MP, effectively avoiding what would have been a humiliation for him today.
And right on cue, The Daily Mirror have a video of some of his aides boozing their way through lockdown in a way that will revolt all those who could not say goodbye to dying relatives during the pandemic.
The Privileges Committee has a Conservative majority so their wholesale demolition of Johnson can’t be put down to the politicking of opposition politicians.
In the aftermath of the publication of the report, a few Johnson stooges parroted the usual guff about the Committee ‘overreaching’ their conclusions.
Either he lied to Parliament (and the evidence produced by the Committee is overwhelming) or he didn’t.
If he lied then they cannot possibly ‘overstate’ or ‘overreach’ or whatever absurd descriptor is deployed by his supporters in mitigation.
If a prime minister does not face the severest of sanctions for lying to the elected House, then what is the point of Parliament?
Johnson has been demeaning himself for decades but demeaning his office and an elected legislature is quite another matter.
Any MP with any respect for the authority they derive from the people, will get behind the conclusions of the report.
Already some Tories are lining up to abstain. There isn’t a lobby in the House for cowards but if there was it would contain Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary who yesterday toured the TV studios in a show of sophistry that will have only inflicted more damage on his party.
Even the Prime Minister himself looks to be avoiding the debate, Downing Street saying that his diary is full, busy with a visit from the Swedish Prime Minister.
The optics of partygate have been terrible for the Tories and it would appear that with the dithering of some MPs looking contagious, the fallout will continue to play badly for the party of government.
Voters will have their say with four upcoming by-elections ensuring that Rishi Sunak will continue to firefight on issues for which his party must accept a measure of culpability.
During the debate which started late on Monday, the leader of the House of Commons Penny Mourdant MP, reminded members that as it was a matter for the House to decide whether or not to approve the report.
Although the vote is not the subject of the party whipping system, it will be interesting to see how many Conservative MPs either abstain or vote against the findings of the Committee.
The leader of the house indicated that she will back the conclusions of the Committee.
In a speech which was largely procedural in nature, she invoked the godfather of parliamentary procedure Erskine May in deploying her case, arguing that telling the truth is enshrined in rules that constitute obligations that MPs have to one another.
But more than that those rules were to give confidence to the people who elected MPs in the first place and acted as a reminder to generations yet to sit in the House, that honesty matters.
Liz Saville-Roberts (Plaid Cymru) pointed to Johnson’s Brexit mantra of ‘taking back control’ as a rallying call for the sovereignty of the British Parliament, a sovereignty she argued that Johnson had defiled.
Labour’s shadow leader of the house Thangham Debbonaire MP put it in stark terms. She said that his behaviour during lockdown and his subsequent lying to Parliament dishonoured the sacrifices of those who had followed the rules and who missed birthdays, weddings and funerals.
The debate at the time of writing has not been well attended, astonishing really given the gravity of the issue before the House.
The very last words in the speech of the leader of the house to MPs were that they should do what they think is right and that others should leave them alone when they do.
That remark is a nod to suggestions that Tories who vote against the former prime minister can expect the ire of those in constituency parties who are still loyal to him.
The report will be backed but the result of the division tonight will lack the drama that would have played out had Boris Johnson not resigned as an MP.
But the consequences of partygate rumble on and continue to haunt Sunak, a prime minister who has to navigate the mess left not only by Boris Johnson but by Liz Truss as well.
For Sunak the summer recess can’t come quickly enough. But before it does, he will be judged by the voters in key by-elections due to be held on July 20.