While the British government is reeling from allegations of sleaze, Chris Bryant, chairman of the House of Commons’ standards committee, has become a crucial figure in the operation to clean up parliament.
Bryant confirmed in his report later this month that the committee is considering limiting second posts for MPs. This comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week tried to reverse the standard system to protect one of his colleagues – just to reverse course within hours in the midst of public outrage.
The Labor MP said his cross-party committee, which consisted of seven MPs and seven members of the public, held an emergency meeting on Tuesday. Among the “many ideas” it is considering is a 2018 recommendation by the Committee on Standards in Public Life – a separate independent body chaired by the former head of MI5 – that MPs should be banned from second posts seeking support involves.
Bryant, who last week compared Johnson’s intervention to “something they are doing in Russia”, said the incident had damaged the reputation of elected representatives.
“I hate the idea that people get the impression that all MPs are on their way or have their snout in the trough,” he told the Financial Times. “It was really irresponsible of the government to do what he did last week; there are many Tory MPs who are in despair. “
Johnson tried to snatch up the whole standard system in an attempt to save Owen Paterson, a former cabinet minister who was suspended from the Commons for 30 days for lobbying allegations. When Johnson abandoned his plan, Paterson resigned.
“Every MP who is here has entered politics to change the world for the better. It does not make them saints, “Bryant said,” but the public is rightly interested in MPs abusing privileged positions for financial interests. “
Bryant was elected to the post of chairman of the standard committee in early 2020, a post that always goes to an MP from the opposition party.
He is seen as a repository of knowledge about parliament’s sometimes mysterious procedures. “He is a modernist and a traditionalist, he is a progressive politician, but he loves history. . .[and]has a great deal of knowledge of parliament, ”said Alison McGovern, a fellow Labor MP. She describes him as “deeply serious and a writer and thinker, but also very generous and fun”.
Mark Fletcher, a Conservative member of the Standards Committee, said: “He treats everyone on the committee with great respect and makes sure everyone has a fair trial.”
Bryant is a politician who is hard to stab. He was a priest and head of European affairs for the BBC before entering politics. “I went from career to career,” he said, quoting a song from Dwaashede, the Sondheim musical.
His five years in the church came to an end over his homosexuality. “There was an old rule in the church that was ‘do not ask, do not tell,'” he recalled. “In the clergy in the city center there were guys who loved gin and silk, but then the church made it clearer. . . “We do not like homosexuality” and it has become very difficult for me. “
In 2010, he entered into a civil partnership with his partner Jared in the members’ dining room at parliament. Although he remains a Christian – he was a co-founder of the Christian Socialist Movement – he remarked: “I do not care about pie in the air when you die, I believe in our lives today.”
Bryant was a member of the Conservative Association while studying at Oxford University, where he had a dim view of his fellow student Johnson. His political realignment came during the Pinochet years in Chile. In 1986, he was attending the funeral of a young Chilean who had been killed by the military and when tear gas was thrown at police, he noticed one of the cans saying “Made In The UK”.
The transition from conservative to labor has been followed by other political outbursts since he was elected MP for Rhondda, a post-industrial seat in the Welsh valleys, in 2001.
Bryant was an ardent supporter of Tony Blair, but he helped accelerate the former prime minister’s departure in 2007. He has worked in the last year of Gordon Brown’s government as Minister of Europe. Later, he served in the shadow cabinet under hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn only to resign as part of a larger protest in 2016.
A decade ago, he became known as “the plague of Murdoch” after he chased media mogul Rupert Murdoch over telephone hacking through his newspaper News of the World. Bryant won a £ 30,000 settlement from News Group Newspapers after his own phone was hacked.
The 59-year-old is aware that his critics see him as a somewhat pious and self-righteous character. “But I do not think I am pious at all,” he said. “To quote RuPaul [the drag queen], if you do not love yourself, how the hell are you going to love someone else? ”
Bryant, who also sits on the foreign affairs committee, has written books on Labor figures Stafford Cripps and Glenda Jackson and keeps a private diary that colleagues say could one day make fascinating reading.
He is currently trying to push through a bill that would oblige the government to give greater support to people with “acquired brain injury”.
One Tory who worked with Bryant described him as a “pretty fair individual” who had a “difficult” job. “He has two sides of his personality that pull him in different directions. “He has a religious background and wants to be fair – that’s a big part of his personality,” the MP said. “But there is also an element of being naughty and party politics. Sometimes you see it pulling in the opposite direction. ”
Kevin Brennan, a fellow Welsh Labor MP, said Bryant “is genuinely concerned about standards in parliament, but not in a provocative way”, adding: “He is not some kind of witch doctor general; he wants to maintain the standards that the public expects of us. ”
Bryant predicted that the Commons would vote to reverse last week’s vote that Paterson acquits. “Common sense and decency have prevailed, or I assume it will Monday night,” he said.
As for his own political intentions, does Bryant want a return to the shadow cabinet? “My dream is to play Doctor Who,” he said enigmatically.