Friday, December 21, 2018

Fiona Onasanya should resign

The MP for Peterborough, Fiona Onasanya, has been convicted of perverting the course of justice by conspiring to lie to the authorities about a speeding ticket.

She has been suspended from the Labour party.

Almost everyone who drives has sometimes broken the law by driving too fast and it would be hypocrisy to get too outraged over someone driving at 41mph in a 30pmh limit.

However, the fact that nearly everyone does it doesn't make it a good idea and it is right that there are penalties in place to discourage all drivers from going to fast and encourage us to pay more attention to the safety of ourselves and all other road users. Lying to the authorities to try to evade those penalties is conduct well short of the standard of behaviour which should be expected of an MP.

Former Lib/Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne, after conspiring with his former wife to evade a speeding ticket, eventually pleaded guilty and had the decency to resign from parliament rather than bringing it and himself into further disrepute by having to be removed.

If Fiona Onasanya had any common sense she would now do the same thing and resign so that the electors of Peterborough can choose a new MP.

She has instead compared herself to Jesus Christ, Moses, and various biblical figures, saying,

“In times like these, the natural inclination of believers is to ask God: why? 

I personally do not, because in my experience the answers are usually far above and beyond my reach. 

What I do know is that I am in good biblical company, along with Joseph, Moses, Daniel and his three Hebrew friends, who were each found guilty by the courts of their day. “While God did not save them from a guilty verdict, he did save them in it and ensured that their greatest days of impact were on the other side of a guilty verdict. 

Of course this is equally true of Christ, who was accused and convicted by the courts of his day and yet this was not his end but rather the beginning of the next chapter in his story.”

The next chapter in Onasanya's story is that having been convicted this week she and her brother are expected to be sentenced next month. Chris Huhne and his ex wife got eight months for a very similar offence, though they had pleaded guilty.

If an MP is sentenced to more than a year in prison he or she automatically loses his or her seat so there is a by-election. If he or she gets a prison sentence less than that- including a suspended one - the House of Commons authorities will automatically open a petition when the appeal period expires (or after any appeal process is exhausted) to see whether the electors want to demand a by-election. The rules provide that

"The Petition Officer will open a recall petition after the Speaker of the House of Commons notifies them that an MP has been: 
  •  convicted of an offence and received a custodial sentence (including a suspended sentence) or ordered to be detained, other than solely under mental health legislation  
  • barred from the House of Commons for 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days, or  
  • convicted of providing false or misleading information for allowance claims under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. 

In the case of a conviction, the recall petition will not be opened unless the appeal period expires without the conviction, sentence or order having been overturned or all appeals have been heard and dismissed. 

Once a Petition Officer has opened a recall petition, it will be open for signing for 6 weeks. If at least 10% of the electorate in the constituency signs the petition, the MP will lose their seat and a by-election will be triggered. The recalled MP can stand as a candidate at the by-election.


Anonymous said...

She is both a Politician and Solicitor - lying is to be expected. Her conduct is well short of the standard of behaviour expected of the general public, but of a Solicitor and MP, no.

Chris Whiteside said...

You may find it amusing to make statements of such weapons-grade cynicism, but if you were completely unconcerned about the behaviour of MPs and elected representatives I doubt you would bother to post on my blog.

The word "expected" has a number of meanings: it can mean what people think is going to happen and it can mean a standard which is required of people. Obviously I was using the term in the latter sense.

It is possible that the court will impose a sentence sufficiently severe that a by-election is called automatically without the need for a recall petition.

If, however, the court imposes a custodial sentence of less than a year, we will find out what the public think, at least in Peterborough, when the Commons authorities launch the recall petition.

If the necessary threshold of 10% of electors in the constituency signing it is not reached well within the six weeks required I will be absolutely astonished.