‘It is an interesting time to be in parliament’, say many of my colleagues who have been in parliament longer than me...
...The reason? The current conservative government has no majority and only a thin majority with the northern Irish DUP.
The theory of our parliamentary system is based on the idea of a division of powers: those who make the laws (the legislative power; parliament), and those who implement the laws (the executive power, the government). Those who referee the disputes (the judiciary, our courts) are independent from each other. This was clear while there was a king who was the government, but since our monarch no longer has a political role, the division between parliament and government has become fuzzy. If the government has a good majority the role of parliament can be quite limited, because the government can get its business through parliament quite quickly, and all the law-making initiatives will help the ruling party to get through its programme.
The recent election didn’t afford any party such comfort and the result is probably the clearest indication how divided the country currently is. But it is a great opportunity to really debate the big issues – mainly Brexit and austerity - and parliament is coming into its important role without the government forcing its position through. Parliament and the diverse views of every single member - front or back bench, government party or opposition parties, matter! In this context the simplistic call to ‘just get on with Brexit’ is particularly misplaced. It seems to me that the public wanted us to have these big debates.
The government now risks losing any vote and has therefore, on a number of occasions, avoided the vote altogether, in order to avoid embarrassment; for example on the question of halting the further roll out of Universal Credit a couple of weeks ago. Last week however, through a clever procedure dating back to the 18th century, the government was forced to concede on an important matter: to release the Brexit impact assessment to the Brexit Select committee (I sit on this committee). The government had argued that releasing the documents would harm the Brexit negotiations. But it is now for the Brexit Select committee, which has members from all parties, to decide whether to release the documents or not. At least, that is what should happen.
Interesting times indeed!