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Ladies and gentlemen of the United Kingdom, your plight is worsening: The government now no longer pays any attention to the decisions of your Parliamentarians.
You’ll remember that a debate was held on Monday, in which MPs called for an inquiry into the effect of changes to the benefit system – introduced by the Conservative-led Coalition government – on the incidence of poverty in this country; the question was whether poverty was increasing as a result of the so-called reforms.
Parliament voted massively in favour of the inquiry (125 votes for; two against), as reported here.
We considered it a great victory at the time, and looked forward to the commissioning of the inquiry and its eventual report.
Now that dream is in tatters as Michael Meacher, the MP who brought the motion to Parliament, has reported that nothing is to happen and the government is ignoring the vote.
It seems he is blaming this partly on the media because “it wasn’t reported” – and he has a point; only 2,500 people have so far read the article on Vox Political, and that’s not nearly enough interest to worry David Cameron and his unelected cadre.
This turn of events raises serious questions about the role of Parliament in holding the government of the day to account, influencing legislation and taking effective initiative of its own.
Perhaps we should be glad that this has happened, because the illusion that we have any kind of democracy at all has been, finally, stripped away.
(On a personal note, this saddens me greatly as it confirms the belief of a very rude Twitter user who accosted me on that site earlier the week to inform me that democracy died many years ago, and I was deluded in trying to save it now. What a shame that such a person has been proved correct.)
Here are the facts, according to Mr Meacher – and they make bitter reading: “The chances of influencing … legislation are negligible because the government commands a whipped majority at every stage of a bill’s passage through the commons.
“Parliament can make its voice heard, but it can hardly change anything that the government has decided to do.
“The only rare exception is when there is a revolt on the government benches which is backed by the opposition, and even then when the government lost a vote on that basis last year on the EU budget, it still ostentatiously dismissed the vote as merely ‘advisory’.
“Nor, it seems from Monday’s vote, can parliament take any effective initiative of its own either.”
He said newly-instituted systems that followed the expenses scandal are already disappearing:
- “The backbench business committee, which for the first time gives parliamentarians some control over what is debated in the house, is being sidelined and decisions on its motions ignored.
- “The promised house business committee, which would share negotiations between government and parliament over the passage of all business put before the house, has been quietly dropped.
- “Only the election of members of select committees by the house, not by the whips, has so far survived, but one cannot help wondering if that too will be taken back by the party establishments over time.”
This is, as Mr Meacher states, a major constitutional issue – especially as our current government was not elected by the people but created in a dirty backroom deal, and its actions have no democratic mandate at all; nobody voted for the programme of legislation that we have had forced – forced – upon us.
Did you vote for the privatisation of the National Health Service? I didn’t.
Did you vote for the privatisation of the Royal Mail? I didn’t.
Did you vote for the increase in student fees? I didn’t.
Did you vote for the Bedroom Tax? I didn’t.
Did you vote for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal? I didn’t.
Did you vote for the Gagging law? I didn’t.
Did you vote to protect the bankers who caused the financial crisis from having to deliver compensation to us? I didn’t.
Did you vote to protect tax avoidance schemes? I didn’t.
There are many more examples I could list.
Mr Meacher suggests possible ways to reassert the authority of Parliament, but none of them will have any immediate effect – or possibly any effect at all.
He ends his piece by saying “the most effective way of making progress is greater awareness among the electorate of how Parliament actually performs, or fails to perform. If the public understood more transparently how the corrupting influence of patronage actually works, how the power system turns everything to its own advantage, and how the genuine objectives of democratic elections are so readily thwarted, a lot of these unedifying practices would have to be curbed.”
Considering Cameron’s attitude to the will of the people so far, this seems unlikely.
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