Does Groupthink explain why so many MPs accept ‘hospitality’?

August 27, 2023

The lack of trust in politics  erupted again this week with evidence that over 100 MPs have taken £180,000 in hospitality this summer.  Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, deputy PM Oliver Dowden, Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, all on the list.  And that’s only what’s been declared – anything under £300 can remain undeclared by MPs.

Now I don’t mind Ministers doing their jobs.  If you’re giving a speech to the tech industry, then going to the dinner is fine – it’s work.  And the rules already reflect that.  But why does the Chancellor need £600 tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show?  He’s a millionaire!

Why does Sir Keir Starmer need free tickets worth £698 tickets for a Coldplay concert?  He’s loaded.

Worse still, why did Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds accept £3,000 of hospitality from Google to go to Glastonbury?  He was in the Labour front bench delegation that visited Google a few months ago.  Days later they changed their policy of taxing tech giants, letting them off £3.2 billion in tax.  Do you think it passes the sniff test?

There’s another serious question.  Sir Keir’s go-to defence for abandoning his policies and breaking his pledges is “we will do anything to win the next election”.

But if winning the election is worth abandoning any moral backbone, why do something so stupid as accept £1000’s in hospitality that makes you look corrupt?  Surely an alarm bell rang when Sir Keir was asked did he want to accept a £3,716 box at Royal Epsom?   Or maybe it didn’t.   Maybe the “win at all costs” excuse is just an excuse.

For the record, I’ve taken £0 in expenses and decline hospitality offers.  Except one – I was invited, along with my son, to see a play at the Live Theatre.  Tickets worth £56.  I accepted them, but gave a £100 donation to the Theatre, which is a non-profit organisation.  Oh, and I accepted a gift of chocolate sweets, which I donated to the People’s Kitchen.

But here’s another question.  How are people able to justify this to themselves?

I doubt Boris Johnson intended to lie to Parliament about holding parties during lockdown.  But he had no hesitation justifying his lies to himself.  The willingness of cabinet minister after cabinet minister to make ludicrous excuses about Dominic Cummings’s Barnard Castle eye test shows how little moral backbone some of these people have.

It’s called Groupthink.  A phenomenon detailed by psychologist Irving Janis, while trying to explain why the US made such blunders in Vietnam.  Rather than admit failings, people in authority contrive to explain away obvious evidence.  The highest morality becomes loyalty to the group or institution, and those who would break ranks are demonised.

We’ve seen exactly the same phenomenon in the Spanish FA.  It’s bad enough that Luis Rubiales, head of the Spanish Football Association, grabbed world-cup winning footballer Jenni Hermoso by the head and forced a kiss on her lips.  They then attempted to bully her into saying it was consensual, and issued a false statement on her behalf.  Only when the entire Spanish women’s team resigned did FIFA act and suspend him.  UEFA is still silent, and paying Mr Rubiales his Euro 250,000 Euros a year on top of his Spanish salary.

What’s the antidote?  I suspect there are many PhDs written by people more qualified than me on organisational culture and groupthink.  But in politics, one thing is true: sunlight is the best disinfectant.

I’m holding public meetings across the North East.  You can come and ask me anything you like – within the bounds of decency.  The events will be published on my website –

The first was at Morpeth on Tuesday, and hoping for a good turnout we laid out 80 chairs.  In the end 98 locals attended, plus me and my campaign team.  Questions about job creation, transport, the climate emergency, and what the North East needs.

One local man, Alasdair, summed up the mood.  “I think we should have someone [as mayor] who is not party political – it should be people actually looking at the issues, not having a party whip behind them.”  If nothing else, it will prevent groupthink.