Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Taking responsibility

In a recent post, I suggested that, far from being the ‘mother of all parliaments’ any objective examination of the Westminster system suggests that the UK is a recent and reluctant convert to the idea of democracy, with an establishment which continues to resist the full implementation of the concept.  Over the past week or so, there have been at least three instances underlining the limited nature of what passes for ‘democracy’ in the UK.
The first was the infamous action of a sole Tory MP in blocking the ‘upskirting’ bill in the House of Commons despite the bill enjoying widespread support.  The MP concerned has rightly come in for a great deal of criticism, and I have little sympathy with his claim that he has been scapegoated for his action.  The doesn’t stop me asking, though, whether he is entirely the right target here.  What sort of a democratic parliament allows a situation where, even if 649 of the 650 members support a measure, the one solitary exception can block the passage of the measure simply by shouting ‘object’ at the right time, rather than taking a vote of those present?  The real problem here isn’t the man himself, it’s a procedural system which gives each and every one of the MPs an effective veto on certain types of legislation.
The second is the way in which parliament is only allowed to vote for or against some motions, and no amendments are allowed.  This is a key element to the debate about the ‘meaningful’ vote at the end of the Brexit process.  MPs are effectively being told that they can only vote for or against the government’s report on the outcome of negotiations and that the motion will be ‘unamendable’, which means that MPs only have two choices – accept what’s been negotiated or leave the EU with no deal.  Again, I ask: what sort of democratic debating chamber only allows its members to vote for or against what the government proposes, and does not allow legislators to debate other options in order to arrive at the one enjoying the greatest consensus?
And the third is the statement by Theresa May that Parliament "cannot tie the hands of government in negotiations".   It’s a statement made as though it were unchallengeable and unalterable truth, but I ask: “why ever not?”.  What exactly is wrong with the idea that the parliament directly elected by the people should lay down parameters within which the government must act?  Isn’t that what the legislature is there to do?
The discussion concentrates on the outcomes and the personalities causing them, but there is an underlying problem here with the limited nature of parliamentary democracy in the UK and the excessive power of the Executive over what the Legislature can do.  MPs claim that they are there ‘to hold the government to account’, but the arcane rules and processes of the institution to which they belong effectively constrain their ability to do that.  Instead of turning their minds to a few simple procedural changes which would enhance democracy, their obsession with the perfection of the Westminster model leads them to play a blame game rather than take responsibility.

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