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Recall result does not diminish gravity of Ian Paisley's misconduct

Ian Paisley may have narrowly escaped having to fight a by-election but that does not diminish the gravity of his misconduct, which attracted the longest suspension imposed by the House of Commons in modern times.

The North Antrim MP has still not satisfactorily explained why he accepted lavish hospitality worth up to £100,000 from the Sri Lankan government, which he failed to declare before going on to lobby David Cameron on behalf of the controversial regime.

In a normal democratic party, Mr Paisley would have been expelled, or more likely resigned before he was pushed. And this was certainly a resignation matter.

Instead, the DUP suspended him for the period of the recall petition then brought him back into the fold with the lightest of slaps on the wrist.

The party offered no opinion on the MP's actions and attempted to shut down discussion by saying it would be making no further comment.

The DUP will know that this is a damaging matter, particularly in Westminster where the party is attempting to show that it is a serious and professional political organisation.

Many people believe there is not much integrity in public office but it is unusual for a political party to effectively confirm that view by failing to issue a resounding condemnation of Mr Paisley's actions.

Mr Paisley has avoided a by-election but neither he nor his party come out of this episode especially well.

To a lesser extent, there will also be questions for the opposition parties in North Antrim, who failed to muster sufficient numbers to topple the sitting MP.

There are likely to have been a number of factors at play, including the unusual nature of the process and concerns over accessibility and confidentiality.

Many voters will have concluded that Mr Paisley was likely to win any subsequent poll and decided the exercise was a bit pointless.

But more worryingly for the parties, it may be evidence of wider apathy about politics generally and a growing cynicism about the conduct of those in office.

So what now for Mr Paisley?

Following the recall result, he declared he was 'humbled', however it is fair to say that throughout yesterday he did not display much humility.

In fact, he was positively crowing, boasting that he had the support of 90.6 per cent of the electorate from the recall petition, which is stretching the truth somewhat.

He was also keen to downplay the nature of his conduct, while a more contrite attitude would be appropriate.

The Paisley name carries enormous weight in North Antrim but elected representatives, even those who have huge majorities, must live up to their responsibilities.

That includes maintaining high standards, something the MP and his party need to fully appreciate.

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