Rachel Johnson once accused her brother of using the Commons Dispatch Box as a “bully pulpit”. It was intended as an insult but this week we will find dozens of MPs doing much the self-same thing, and a very good thing too. For 18 months we have experienced a neutered Parliament, a Parliament devoid of atmosphere and one in which the Government has been able to get away with virtually anything it liked, without being held to account.
We saw during the Afghanistan debate last month what we’ve been missing and how incisive, impressive and critical the Commons can be when it sits together in joint communion. Could Tom Tugendhat have made that speech which irritated Dominic Raab so much that he didn’t even mention it in his wind-up to the debate if he had been on Zoom via his kitchen? Would Johnny Mercer have been able to summon up that raw emotion remotely?
No. The more MPs are able to look into the whites of each others’ eyes, the better.
Finally, the Opposition can oppose and do it properly. Let’s hope we never, ever have to endure a virtual Parliament ever again.
And let’s hope we never have to see male MPs in open-necked shirts and unmatched blazers and chinos, or jeans, ever again either. Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has issued “guidance” to MPs advising them about appropriate dress and behaviour in the chamber, which seeks to reverse many of John Bercow’s unwarranted relaxations. Sir Lindsay told MPs: “It is a privilege to serve as a Member of Parliament and your dress, language and conduct should reflect this.”
Frankly, if you need to be told this, perhaps you shouldn’t be an MP in the first place.
What better way to bring ministers back into line than with the threat of a reshuffle?
Having briefed journalists that there wouldn’t be a reshuffle until early 2022, this weekend has seen a spate of stories speculating on a reshuffle later this week. I smell a rat. If you’re about to announce a social care policy, the funding of which will split your Government, what better way to bring ministers back into line than with the threat of a reshuffle? “Now you wouldn’t want to rock the boat this week of all weeks, would you?” I can just hear a whip saying exactly that to an MP who might be thinking of causing trouble.
But if there is a reshuffle I very much hope Nadhim Zahawi will be promoted to the Cabinet, after his handling of the vaccine rollout and his role going on TV as “Minister for Sticky Wickets”. Gillian Keegan, the apprenticeships minister, has a unique way of speaking “human” and let’s face it, the Cabinet could do with a few more of those.
Penny Mordaunt is surely overdue a Cabinet return, although No 10 are known to be unappreciative of some of her “freelancing”. The Left hate Treasury and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch because she’s a black woman who’s risen to the top in the Conservative Party and is a true Conservative, both with a big and a small C. James Heappey may not make it to Cabinet in this reshuffle but, apart from his difficulties yesterday, as a junior defence minister he has shone over the Afghan crisis.
“Stick with nurse, for fear of worse” or “Vote for Change” are the two election strategies deployed by most political parties in democracies all over the world. Uniquely, on September 26, German voters are being invited to do both, and by the same party, the SPD. Their Chancellor candidate, the current vice-chancellor and finance minister, Olaf Scholz, is both managing to portray himself as the agent of change and the continuity candidate. He refers to himself in debates and interviews as Angela Merkel’s partner, but also as a new broom. And it’s working, given his party now leads the CDU/CSU by five points.
German politics is all about stability and continuity, which in some ways makes it a little dull, but worse than that it prevents anyone with reforming ideas coming to the fore. The FDP, the pseudo-Thatcherite socially liberal party, may well go into coalition with Scholz. They are the only true radicals in mainstream politics.
In case you didn’t know, the Greens are about to elect a new leader. Yes, I know, contain your excitement. Their current leader, Sian Berry, resigned in July over the issue of trans rights. So, naturally, the issue dominated a 75-minute debate I hosted on LBC last week between the five putative successors. It was a lesson in how, as a political party, to disappear up your own fundamentals.
Two of the candidates were monosyllabic and should not have got through a vetting process. I later discovered there wasn’t one. Another two talked a good game but there was too much motherhood and apple pie, and the one candidate who challenged the direction of the party won’t win because of his anti-wokish stance on trans rights.
At a time when green issues are near the top of the political agenda, it said much that there were no questions on climate change.
This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 7 September 2021.