By Paul Goodman
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I expect that Conor Burns and Angie Bray will follow the logic of their interventions and speeches on Lords Reform, and vote against the Second Reading of the Bill this evening – thus removing themselves from the Government front bench if they don't resign first. Other resignations are sometimes more ambiguous, since the person who quits may leave for other reasons: frustrated ambition, disappointment, promotion ungained.
The behaviour of other "Sensibles" is no less admirable. Older MPs such as Eleanor Laing and Oliver Heald, who were active in helping to lead the group, care about the constitution and think about it deeply.
But I am most struck by the courage of younger backbenchers who have their careers in front of them, have every prospect of being Ministers, and have chosen none the less to take the course that they believe to be right. It is probably invidious to name names, and I'm writing before the ten o'clock vote, but I identify three members of the 2010 intake as being especially active in the stuggle against Nick Clegg's Lords Reform Bill.
- Jesse Norman. The Sensibles operation has been run out of Mr Norman's office. The author of an elegant book about the Big Society and a ferocious campaigner against PFI, the MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire was a likely candidate for promotion. He has turned his back on it to fight for a cause in which he belives. Here is a glimpse of his quality yesterday in responding to Mr Clegg's junior Minister, Mark Harper:
"Jesse Norman: The crucial question is this: should the Bill seek to regulate all these matters, or leave them to convention? If it leaves them to convention, then the result will be disputes between the two competing chambers. If it regulates these issues, then the result will be that relations between the chambers become justiciable in law, as they did over the Hunting Act, which went all the way to the Supreme Court.”
Mr Harper: The Joint Committee considered the question of putting powers in the Bill and clearly recommended that we should not go there; it would be dangerous and it would open up the Bill to interference by the courts. We listened to the Committee very carefully.
Jesse Norman: I am grateful to the Minister for stating that he wishes to be impaled on the first horn of the dilemma: in the absence of regulation that would render the actions of the Houses justiciable, he wishes to impale himself on the horn of constant gridlock and competition between the two sides."
- Nadhim Zahawi. Mr Zahawi has had a successful career in business, like Mr Norman is not a serial rebel and surely had every hope of rapid promotion. He has taken to the press to write against and elected Upper House, and here is part of his speech from yesterday's debate.
Nadhim Zahawi:The supporters of the Bill would have the country believe that those who are opposed to it are opponents of democracy itself. Today I stand to refute that ugly caricature. No one in the House is more committed to British democracy than I. My family immigrated to Britain from an Iraq where democracy was spoken of only behind closed doors, late at night, among trusted friends. Compared to the brutal realities of Saddam’s rule, democracy was an abstract dream. Yet here in Britain there was a constitutional order which made democracy real, concrete, embedded in the very fabric of our national life…And here also was the oldest and greatest of Parliaments, an elected House of Commons to embody the will of the people, and an appointed House of Lords to stand as a check against the tyranny of the majority.
- Penny Mordaunt. Ms Mordaunt must have a reasonable chance of being one of the women MPs which David Cameron wants to occupy a larger proportion of his front bench by 2015. She has none the less argued strongly and consistently against the bill, describing it as a "complete dog's breakfast of a bill". Here is a part of a piece she wrote for this site:
Top of the list is that even if you are content with an elected second chamber it is not clear how the primacy of the House of Commons would be maintained. The only reason that the Parliament Acts have legitimacy, the only reason that the House of Commons can legitimately claim the power of the purse, is because it is elected in contradistinction to the House of Lords. It must be understood that an elected Upper House would not simply fill the void left by the abolished House of Lords. The House of Lords has a settled and accepted view of its position in the constitution. A new House composed of elected members could not be expected simply to conform to that view.
Apologies to other 2010 intake MPs who've been no less outspoken, but these three have been active in the fight against the bill. Parliament means party, and party means whip – which, to uphold the coherence of party, backbenchers must usually follow. But not always. In the case of these three and others, onsider their courage, honour their convictions.