Leading Article: The problem with Parliament...

Share
Related Topics
The week when politicians go on their no doubt richly deserved summer holidays is just the week to take a look at how well we are served by the Palace of Westminster. Why? Because the judgments of politicians themselves on the matter are very often worst of all: better for us to discuss the subject quietly, in their collective absence, and hope that they can be persuaded when they return to view their ingrown world from the outside.

Here are a couple of cases in point. Ann Taylor, Labour's Leader of the Commons, told yesterday's Sunday Telegraph that she thinks possible reforms to Commons procedure might include swipe card voting, time allocations, and - wait for it - applause for speeches and well-made points.

Swipe cards, and better organised debating time, more socially amenable hours, and so on, are all welcome improvements in their way. But happy clappy Commons? No. Up with that we should not put. Ms Taylor was a little hesitant, admitting that too much clapping might not be a good idea; which means, presumably, that the whips would advise MPs in advance of those occasions when spontaneous outbursts are appropriate.

All this nonsense stems from a large crowd of new New Labour MPs coming in and feeling frustrated that they are not allowed to leap about and cheer when Mr Blair arrives at the despatch box, as if Noel and Liam have just walked on stage, but must instead wave their order papers and shout "hear, hear". Well, they need to learn that the Commons is neither a political rally, nor a pop concert, even though they might enjoy either of those alternatives more. It is a debating chamber, and to the extent that the rules keep it that way, the rules should be kept.

Then up pops the cheerful visage of the Conservative leader with more nonsense, this time of the Opposition variety. He alleges that New Labour is a "control freak" government which is in danger of "marginalising" Parliament. In fact, the problem is so serious that it poses a long-term threat to the health of our democracy.

William Hague's evidence for this malign cancer, already rotting away our body politic before it has even had a chance to do a spot of post- election sunbathing, is that the new government is over-using the guillotine (cutting short debate on Bills), reducing Question Time, and talking to people in focus groups outside the House. Now Mr Hague is a young man, but not so young that he cannot recall that the Tories were recently in power for a very long time, and were superbly well practised in all the arts of trampling on Parliament's sensibilities, abusing executive power, ignoring the real wishes of the populace, dismissively mistreating their own backbenchers, and regarding the official Opposition as beneath contempt and not really worth bothering to answer at all.

Indeed, some might say that the Thatcher government was especially prone to presuming itself a one-party state. Two words are a complete answer to Tory complaints that Parliament is being ignored, and democracy at risk: the words are "poll", and "tax", in that order. Frankly, if Mrs Thatcher had had the wit to attend the odd focus group or two she might have learnt something about what people really thought about her version of democracy - but then, that phase of Tory government was concerned with vanguardism, which is famously not very interested in what the people feel, only what they can be made to do. It might also be worth recalling that every major social Bill in that parliament was guillotined, along with all the major public utility privatisations. In fact this government is being rather fairer with the guillotine, by announcing well in advance when it intends to use it, which was not the Tory practice.

No - the real problem lies somewhere between Mr Hague's confected indignation and the inevitable shock of new Labour MPs discovering that Parliament was not created yesterday. The real problem with Parliament is that no one in this government seems able to articulate quite what it's for, other than to keep telling Labour MPs to be "disciplined", and berate anyone who declines to sign up to New Dawn optimism.

So far as the Commons is concerned, a lot of this agonising is merely the consequence of Labour winning such a dominant majority. But the truth is that Parliament does have a problem, and it is the other house - the House of Lords. Mr Blair swung a few friendly faces from among his business world friends into ermine only last Friday. Funny, really, when you think that New Labour is supposed to be in favour of democratising the second chamber. Or is it? The truth is, apart from being opposed to the hereditary principle, no one really knows what Mr Blair intends to do with the Lords. We are told that he is lining up working peers ready to prevent the hereditary Tories from frustrating any central part of his programme. Fine - but surely that cannot be it? Were we not promised more radical reform? What shape might it take? The answer is important, because it will tell us how open Blairism really is to having its policies more or less objectively scrutinised and revised in a separate chamber, and not by placemen, either. Who knows what the people think about updating incidental Commons procedures? Probably they barely care. But we should not clap this government too loudly until we see it start to modernise the parliamentary system itself.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock  

For foxes' sake: Don't let the bloody tradition of the Boxing Day hunt return

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all