It hasn't quite come to the eating of the hat but it may be time to lay the table and think about the garnishing.
Mark Fisher (Lab, Stoke-on-Trent Central) has emerged from major brain surgery – I mean major surgery on the brain – to witness the culmination of 10 years' work in the reform of Parliament. His plan was to take control of the business of the House from the Government and give it to a committee of backbenchers. We all scoffed, of course, because it was so unlikely to succeed. Why? It was never in the interests of the people who run the joint to reform the joint.
But here we are, they've voted to establish an MPs' committee to schedule backbench (though not government) business. Committee chairs and members will be elected by secret ballot – taking power away from the Whips. (Robin Cook's attempt at that failed, if you remember.)
It's where the audacity of hope gets you. The committee exists, though it won't operate until the next Parliament. And will it ever be able to stop swathes of legislation going through without being read in the Commons? That's yet to be seen. I'll just keep the hat in the warming drawer for now.
Interestingly, we had a series of attacks from the Procedure Committee Tories on Harriet Harman. Shameful. Deplorable. Indefensible. Cynical. That was them, referring to her. They were variously horrified, disappointed and dismayed.
She had initially put up for debate two ways of re-electing the Speaker. This is always the first vote of a new Parliament, and it was worrying Speaker Bercow. (He is increasingly unpopular among his sometime colleagues and he fears he mightn't survive a secret ballot.)
But – or so – the opportunity to debate it was withdrawn. This caused a great row. There were rumours of a conversation between the Speaker and the Leader. He had argued, the supposition went, that a secret ballot to re-elect the Speaker would make it much less likely he would retain the chair. MPs famously say one thing and do another in the privacy of the polling booth (they're just like voters).
So, defying just this one Procedure Committee recommendation, and ensuring that the re-election of the Speaker would be public, Harriet has made it much more likely the incumbent will stay in place.
Was it all the product of their old affection? Not entirely. A Conservative Party Speaker as opposed to a Labour Speaker is worth two votes in any division. In a hung parliament, two votes matter. Bercow and the Government both want him where he is.
And for Labour to have a Tory who dislikes his old party – that may be very helpful in and around the fleeting coalitions the polls are suddenly promising.Reuse content