Letter: Parliament is not adversarial enough

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The Independent Online
Parliament is not adversarial enough

Sir: Vernon Bogdanor ("The Westminster malaise", 15 May) calls for a more forthright version of Labour's proposed reforms of Parliament, but these are going in the wrong direction altogether.

Professor Bogdanor shares the Labour Party's view that the fault is Parliament's adversarial culture and echoes Labour's call for a greater role for expert scrutiny of legislation in committee.

The current Westminster malaise is not due to adversarialism, but the lack of substantial differences of opinion between the major parties. In these circumstances debate does indeed degenerate into mere point-scoring - witness the fruitless contest between the Home Secretary and his shadow to prove which of them is less sympathetic to civil liberties.

However, it is a mistake to think that reforming parliament would resolve that problem. On the contrary, the proposed reforms would only institutionalise the drift away from democratic debate and towards rule by bureaucrats and experts. The real flaw lies in the exhaustion of political alternatives, which is to say that .

According to Heraclitus, "When Homer said that he wished that war would disappear from the lives of gods and men, he forgot that without opposition all things cease to exist."

And when the Labour Party wishes that the adversarial culture would disappear from Parliament, they forget that without opposition, democracy would cease to exist.

James Heartfield

London N6