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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: Does filibustering do anything for Parliament's reputation? Discuss at length

Our man in Westminster

Filibustering is heroic, if you happen to agree with the person doing it. It takes obstinacy, verbal skill, and stamina.

The Texas Senator Wendy Davis won so much kudos for talking non-stop for 11 hours last June to prevent an anti-abortion bill going through the state legislature that she has attracted $1.2m (£770,000) worth of political donations in the past month alone.

On this side of the Atlantic, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was fuming after Labour peers spent 33 hours in January 2011 arguing over just eight out of 80 proposed amendments to the Electoral Reform Bill that was going to cut the size of the House of Commons. The same ruse has been put to good use from time to time in the House of Commons. In 2007, a former Tory chief whip, David Maclean, introduced a Private Member's Bill that was intended to prevent the Freedom of Information Act from applying to Parliament.

Two Liberal Democrat MPs, Simon Hughes and Norman Baker, spent five hours arguing about the detail in a bid to stop it going any further.

In 1989, Labour's Dennis Skinner spoke for hours on whether to move the writ for a by-election, to prevent Ann Widdecombe introducing a bill that would have restricted abortion.

Such tactics may be admirable in their own way, but do they do anything for the reputation of Parliament? The cross-party Procedure Committee thinks not, because rarely can they be successfully used to stop the Government getting legislation on to the statute books.

They are much more commonly used against bills that backbench MPs are trying to introduce. The committee, chaired by the Tory MP Charles Walker, is demanding a change in the rules so that the Commons business managers can impose a timetable on debates about Private Member's Bills.

Even if the committee gets its way, that will not help James Wharton, the youngish Tory MP who has a Private Member's Bill that would force the Government to hold a referendum on whether the UK should stay in or leave the EU, because any rule change would have to be delayed until next year.

English as it is organised – but not spoken

As if frustrated that there will be no British bombers flying over Damascus, the Blairite wing of the Labour Party launched a strike yesterday against the English language.

Rachel Reeves, a Shadow cabinet star tipped as a future Labour leader, is just back from maternity leave, and has agreed to be guest speaker at an event at Labour's autumn conference organised by Movement for Change.

That organisation, which emerged out of David Miliband's ill-starred 2010 leadership campaign, is described by its acting head, Mike Kane, as “a place of people coming together to make change happen”.

The movement took to Twitter to publicise its upcoming meeting, with a graphic that included a quotation from Reeves – “Organising around Living Wage is a policy development that is linked to the lives of ordinary people” – but not linked at all to ordinary speech.

Ukip's credit for Middle East peace

What drove Barack Obama to refer the decision on striking Syria to Congress? What was the real explanation for the Government's parliamentary defeat last week?

The surprising answer to both questions is personified in that international colossus and latter-day peacenik, Nigel Farage.

My source for this startling revelation is Henry Reilly, above, a Ukip member of Newry and Mourne district council who will also be a candidate for Northern Ireland in next year's Euro election. He said, via Twitter: “Proud of Ukip – stopped UK bombing Syria and prompted US Congress to consider democracy – Ukip, the only real opposition – think Ukip – peace.”

More or less clear on energy merits

I notice that an item went up on The Carbon Brief website at the weekend, under the headline “Shale gas: more or less polluting than coal?” which discusses the issue without arriving at a definitive conclusion. It reminds me of a paper issued a couple of years ago by the Policy Exchange think-tank called: “Gas Works? Shale gas and its policy implications.” It was written by Simon Moore, and edited by Simon Less, which answers the question, sort of.

Ireland's other prophetic poet

Seamus Heaney, who was buried in Dublin yesterday, was described by the BBC as “the best-known Irish poet since Yeats”. Possibly, but today is the 50th anniversary of the death of another Irish poet of some distinction.

Louis MacNeice was never quite as famous as Heaney, but did compose lines which aptly sum up the ongoing debate on Syria: “The argument was wilful,/ The alternatives untrue,/ We need no metaphysics/ To sanction what we do/ Or to muffle us in comfort/ From what we did not do.”

a.mcsmith@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/@andymcsmith