Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich & Clacton, reviews the week that was in the House of Commons chamber.
Only Cherie Blair could have enjoyed last week’s Prime Minister
Question Time more. It is rare to see someone come apart in a debate,
but Gordon Brown did. Years of scheming and plotting against Tony
Blair – and then he flunks it. As I watched him visibly reduced, I
imagined the laughter and delight rippling through the Blair
household. I can almost hear Cherie now; "Not quite as easy as Tony
made it looks, is it, Gordon?"
Yet Brownite sorrows come not as single spies, but in battalions.
If PMQs got most coverage, the performance of the week belongs to
Conservative education spokeman, Michael Gove MP (Surrey Heath). In an
education debate with Education Minister Ed Balls (Normanton), the Gove
was not merely eloquent, but brilliant. Funny, yet without flippancy,
Gove showed how the government has comprehensively failed to achieve on
its big promise to improve education. All that talk and millions of
pounds of money, and all too many of our children are still failing.
It was a delight to see arising from the dishevelled Labour benches the "ghost of education policy past" in the form of Barry Shearman MP (Huddersfield). His intervention was wonderfully preposterous; he argued that MPs should not be allowed to send their children to independent schools and seemed to claim some sort of higher morality for those who send their children to State schools. Having only been an MP since 2005, it is a rare treat to see a bit of genuine Socialist chippiness from the 1970s in the Commons. Like a zoologist re-discovering a rare species once thought extinct, I marvelled that such a creature still exists. An uncomfortable looking Ed Balls could only grimace.
Tuesday’s Defence Procurement debate was depressing. Britain is fighting two wars, yet not more than a few dozen MPs turn up for a key debate on how we equip them. Of those that did turn up, many of the debating points were predictable and pedestrian. Sitting on a green bench for several hours waiting to contribute to the debate was like watching a ritual. We were going through the motions of having a defence debate. We certainly were not holding the government to account. But as I said when eventually I got called to speak, it is not MPs or Ministers who make the decisions over defence procurement anymore, but unelected officials in the MoD and elsewhere.
The House of Commons often holds pretend debates because those elected to sit in it only pretend to run the country. Real decision-making rests with quangos and officials. Nowhere was this more obvious that in Wednesday’s debate on Home Information Packs (HIPs).
Andrew Miller MP (Ellesmere Port & Neston) read out possibly the most trite and tiresome speech of the week. His argument was that we had to have HIPs because his constituency was home to the company that employed all the officials that were going to be paid to oversee the scheme. Perhaps. It occurred to me that no-one in the Chamber (with the possible exception of Mr Miller) really believes in HIPs. Ministers are doing it because Sir Humphry Appleby says that that is what needs to be done. Rather like ID cards, or European integration, or the Eurofighter, it happens not because people want it, or because MPs really believe in it – but because Sir Humphry at the Home Office, or the Foreign Office or wherever, thinks we need it.
Parliament’s failure to hold Sir Humphry to account makes me convinced that we do need some radical reforms to our political system. Keith Vaz MP (Leicester E) lead the way with proposals for a written Constitution in his adjournment debate. The longer I sit in Parliament the more I think we need a written Constitution. The trouble is that the version of the Constitution that I write would look rather different from Mr Vaz’s. His would no doubt involve the EU, and lots of Human Rights judges telling us how to live. Mine would involve direct democracy, and … well not a great deal else.