Friday 11 February 2011

A couple of things to say on prisoners voting...

Many people blamed the expenses scandal on the Government’s eternal fiddling and playing politics with MPs’ pay deals and terms.

Meanwhile many thought the fact that MPs were not respected anymore was because Parliament as a body which held the Government to account had lost its teeth.

So a wider consequence of the scandal was a movement to wrestle power away from the Government (the PM, cabinet and ministers) and bring it back to the House of Commons (backbench MPs).

This was a cause that transcended partisan politics, because rather than being ‘Labour against Tories’, it was legislature (MPs of all colours) against executive (Governments of any colour).

It was a big victory when the Government agreed to allow a backbench committee to be formed and given power to schedule debates and votes on subjects of its choosing in the House of Commons.

All those things backbenchers wanted to debate, but were too politically prickly for party leaders to discuss on the Commons floor, would no longer be swept under the carpet but would find their way into open dialogue.

Last night was a great example of that – a backbencher forced the issue of prisoners’ voting rights on to the Commons floor and Parliament’s will now has to be taken into account in any future decision.

The problem is that last night’s vote, and the entire concept of backbench business, was undermined by the fact that hardly anyone turned up to take part.

The vote passed 234 to 22. That means 256 out of 646 MPs voted – less than 40% (not taking account of positive abstentions) a figure which calls into question whether the decision really reflects Parliament’s view.

Some MPs said it was only a backbench debate, others that it was only a one-line whip and so they decided to work in the constituency instead.

But surely if you only vote when it’s a Government/Opposition motion, you’re saying backbench business doesn’t matter. If you only vote when you’re whipped then aren’t you just a sock puppet for your party?

After such a long fight to wrestle control from the executive, it seems the legislature is neither willing nor able to take up its new powers.


Oldrightie said...

"so they decided to work in the constituency instead."
Oxymoron here. These ba***rds, in the main, take a long weekend every week for their own interests.

Anonymous said...

The only way to resolve the issue is to split the executive and the legislature and have an elected president who appoints a cabinet like in the US - when you think about it, letting the executive sit in the legislature and vote on its own decisions is just crazy.

WTF said...

Anon said: "and have an elected president who appoints a cabinet like in the US"

Are you nuts! a President in England!

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