Burnham: Blackmail claims shows politics needs “fundamental reform”

Elliot Chappell

Andy Burnham has said reports of government whips intimidating and blackmailing Conservative backbench MPs with threats to withhold funding from their constituencies shows that the “Westminster system needs fundamental reform”.

In an interview with Sky News this morning, the Labour mayor for Greater Manchester described allegations levelled at the government by Conservative backbencher William Wragg on Thursday as “unprecedented”.

He added: “I can’t remember in my time in parliament anything like that happening, where a Conservative backbencher – quite a senior one – would say something like that before a select committee.”

Wragg accused Downing Street of “blackmail”, saying that staff had threatened him and other colleagues over their opposition to Boris Johnson. He said special advisers and government ministers had warned that there would be embarrassing stories leaked to the press if MPs did not support the Prime Minister.

“It just shows what has always been wrong with the Westminster system,” Burnham said this morning. He added that reports from Christian Wakeford MP – that he was told plans for a new school in his area could be scrapped unless he voted a certain way – “tells you everything that’s wrong and what needs to change”.

“So, whether the Prime Minister survives or not I would say the Westminster system needs fundamental reform – and indeed the wider political system needs wider political reform,” Burnham went on to say.

“It shouldn’t be the case that MPs have to plead for a school in their constituency and if they step vaguely out of line the whips have the power to say: ‘No, it’s not coming.’ That is just completely outrageous, to be honest, that children’s education is a bargaining chip in that way.”

Wragg, the Tory chair of the public accounts committee and an outspoken critic of Johnson, described specific threats to withdraw funding to the constituencies represented by a number of Conservative rebel backbenchers on Thursday.

In response to Wragg’s allegations of intimidation and bullying, No 10 Downing Street has commented that it is “not aware of any evidence to support what are clearly serious allegations” but will look at any evidence “very carefully”.

Labour’s Angela Rayner described the accusations as “grave and shocking” claims of “bullying, blackmail, and misuse of public money” that must be “investigated thoroughly”. The party has called for a full investigation into the reports.

Conservative rebels are considering publishing secretly recorded conversations and text messages to support their claims, according to The Times this morning. A source close to the group told the paper that one has a recording of a “heated conversation” they had with chief whip Mark Spencer.

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