By Tim Montgomerie
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Like Graham Brady I wasn't keen on the nature of some of the electioneering but the overall result of the 1922 elections was, as I blogged this morning, encouraging. I'm more worried about the outcome of the elections for the Backbench Business Committee.
The BBBC has been hugely successful. It has meant that the House of Commons has debated issues that wouldn't have been discussed if the two frontbenches had had their way. The most famous debates of this kind were on prisoner voting and, of course, the EU referendum motion (in which 81 Tory MPs rebelled). Other debates have included the war in Afghanistan, welfare of circus animals, contaminated blood products, metal theft, charging for Big Ben tours, assisted suicide and the Hillsborough stadium tragedy.
Their voting behaviour (see list within this post) may have been too anti-Coalition for their colleagues but central to making the BBBC a success were Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone. Sadly both were unsuccessful in yesterday's election and I fear the BBBC will be a little more tame from now on. Two changes orchestrated by the Whip's Office since the "81 rebellion" made them particularly vulnerable. One change, a few months ago, meant that the BBBC's members were no longer elected by the whole house but the Tory members by Tory backbench MPs only and Labour representatives by Labour backbench MPs etc. The second change was to allow ministerial aides (Parliamentary Private Secretaries) as well as full backbenchers to vote and these received instructions from Keith Simpson, bag carrier to William Hague to vote for change. I don't know what the margins were in the secret ballot but the two rule changes certainly contributed to the fact that the new Tory representatives exclude Messrs Bone and Hollobone. The successful candidates were David Amess, Bob Blackman, Jane Ellison and Marcus Jones.
It is perfectly possible that these four will be vigorous champions of backbench opinion. Only time will tell. A thank you email sent to parliamentary colleagues from Bob Blackman this very afternoon isn't encouraging, however. After promising to "ensure that Back Benchers can have their say on issues that affect constituents and are of concern on a wide scale" he adds:
"However, I am also sure that we will all benefit from 1 line whips on Thursdays!"
In other words… the debates organised by the BBBC – if Mr Blackman gets his way – will be a lot less demanding on MPs' time. MPs may prefer an earlier dash home to their constituencies for the important work they do there but that earlier dash will be at the expense of parliament.
PS David Amess' thank you letter to colleagues has a nice light touch:
"After a bruising and acrimonious campaign I am honoured, humbled and gobsmacked to have been elected to the Backbench Business Committee. So, I would like to thank all those people who voted for me and, for all those who didn’t I intend to find out exactly who you are and send “the firm” round to sort you out. As regards anyone wanting to bid for a debate, a scale of charges will shortly be available on my website."