That gentle giraffe, Sir George Young, suffered the worst parliamentary day of his long career. Such a skilled and decent man, his perfect manners create his immediate environment. He was abused and insulted, twitted and tweaked. His integrity had graffiti sprayed over it. He did, however, win, if that's what he wanted to happen.
To recap: In a spray of sunshine Conservatism – it radiated out from the famous rose garden if you remember – the Government acted generously. They gave control of backbench business over to the back benches. I couldn't understand it. Governments don't give away power. At any rate, the thing was a great success chaired by a magnificent new creation in the form of Natascha Engel. She had been a great critic of such a committee and she ended up, by some happy accident, chairing it.
Her committee went on to schedule debates that neither front bench has wanted, and earned the enmity of the Cabinet. Shouldn't a "strong confident Government" let the back benches get on with their business with their non-binding votes?
Not a bit of it. Cameron is said to be a devoted opponent, and on his instructions, his agents "sneaked in" a motion to change the rules to allow them to stuff the committee with stooges.
The Commons heavyweights were universally hostile. Greg Knight, Bernard Jenkin, Edward Leigh, John Redwood, John Baron – all agreed with Peter Bone's description that the motion was "devious, undemocratic and a disgrace".
They were variously amazed that Sir George hadn't waited for the Procedure committee's report on this very matter; they were certain it was a Whips' move to rein in the committee; they were sure it would lead to more pliable members being shoehorned on; they all saw a more political committee splitting on party lines. There was only one supporter: the Opposition. (Cries of "Wot a stitch-up!") Labour assume they'll be the Government sometime in the next 200 years and they don't want their judgements, policies, strategies being questioned by these tiny fools, MPs.
Years ago I said I'd eat my hat if they allowed a House Business committee. It looked a bit culinary for a moment there, but only for a moment.
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