The Sketch: 'Modernisation' is just mollification

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The Independent Online

The House of Commons (by which I mean 13 backbenchers, one clerk and a deputy speaker) considered the modernisation proposals. These were produced by Jack Straw in a report subtitled "flattering our powerless, harried and excluded backbenchers and confusing them into thinking they're being taken seriously by the powers that be". I forget the exact wording but that was the gist of it.

Thus, modernisingly, we will now get topical questions in question times. Excellent news. And would be useful if we got topical answers to go with them but that isn't going to happen. Can we be sure about that? We can't be sure the sun will come up tomorrow but it always has so far.

There will be more debates, in various forms. But consider how many debates and opportunities for unattended expressions of opinion there already are (Opposition Days, Private Members' Bills, Westminster Hall). Dimbleby (any one) would arrange it so much better.

Handsome Jack's proposals have negligible impact because they give away no power. They are proposals that the party whips were prepared to live with. So the topical debates are going to be nominated and framed by "the usual channels".

Not by backbenchers? No. But shouldn't backbenchers be able to – shut up. To the idea that an Early Day Motion with 150 MPs' signature should get a debate on the floor of the House, Hatty Harman said: "Then we might find ourselves debating football results." It needs a filter, she explained. She meant herself. What a world of privilege we can infer from Her Fragrance.

Proposals that will get nowhere: Much less legislation to cut the need for timetabling (Teresa May). Free elections to select committees (John Bercow). European Scrutiny Committee to sit in public (David Heathcote-Amory). More money for select committees to try and stop the proliferation of PPSs (Barry Sheerman). In-seat bar service in the press gallery and heckling (Simon Carr)

Parliament attracts little attention, not even from parliamentarians. Of the million words a day spoken there, almost none exert power, or even much pressure.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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