13 May 2014

As parliament dies, a chance for the ordinary citizen

As MPs contemplate another two-week holiday, this time around the festival of Whitsun, which almost nobody else celebrates, the talk in Westminster has settled on “what on earth are we going to do for the next year?”


Come on, surprise me!

Their problem rests upon the decision by the coalition government to go for a fixed term of five years – which ends in May next year. Parliament has all but completed its legislative programme, such as it is. MPs are beginning to wonder how they will spend their time.

I’ve been talking about it with a number of individual MPs, one of whom chairs a most influential select committee. Another of them is a backbench activist. I suggested to both of them that their hour is come.

One of the great changes in recent years has been the empowerment of select committees as a consequence of removing the power to appoint their chairmanships from the prejudiced hands of party whips. The consequence is that almost every select committee has worked harder, more diligently and issued more outspoken criticisms of government than ever in history.

Additionally, the online accumulation of petitions forcing MPs to debate certain issues has taken off dramatically. A case in point is the Russell Brand-inspired petition for MPs to debate the decriminalisation of drugs. The debate will be handled by the Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Suddenly there is time in the Commons legislative calendar for the interests of the citizen to take centre stage. So, for example, we should be able to witness the first ever full-blown parliamentary debate on decriminalising drugs. We should also see the huge issues raised by the public accounts select committee aired in full debate on the floor of the House of Commons, instead of being laid to rest in a bundle of papers consigned to Commons library.

Exciting times? Perhaps not. Don’t hold your breath. Does this dying parliament really have the energy, the originality, to respond? History suggests that this largely unreformed talking shop will stumble on without taking much note of the reality that it now no longer has much formal business to discuss.

Come on guys –  and yes, I’m afraid you are still mainly “guys” – surprise us. Dare to generate real political activity and action around the issues that really concern the average citizen. Oh, and you just might find the time to force the hand of “the authorities” and get that Iraq inquiry report published before yet another year is out.​

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