The Somerset Guardian, 8th November 2023
The Labour Party, in its wisdom, forgetting Lord Derby’s dictum that “the duty of an opposition is very simple… To oppose everything and propose, nothing“, recently published its analysis of official Commons data, which showed that Members of Parliament left early on almost half of all working days in the past eighteen months. It is an analysis of its own failure.
Instead of holding the Government to account in its role as Opposition Party, scrutinising legislation and representing constituents in the Chamber, Labour MPs chose to clock out early and then complain about their own idleness.
The job of the Government is to get its business through and it is always happy if this is done quickly with minimal dissent. On the other hand, the Commons is available for the Opposition to make the Government’s life difficult. This can be by force of argument but it is also in part through inconvenience. Bogging ministers down in the Chamber with awkward questions, frustrating its backbenchers by unexpected votes or procedural cleverness are tools for the Opposition. Instead they are ineffectually allowing the Government to go home early.
Historically, the Chamber has been used to frustrate governments and to wear them down. Charles Stewart Parnell showed how it could be done in the 1880s and in more recent times, the Maastricht rebels made John Major’s life difficult. That the current Opposition does not try to do this is an indication of its own weakness and lack of constitutional understanding. It also ultimately weakens the Government because strong opposition improves arguments and adversarial debate sharpens decision-making.
In its way it is amusing that in lieu of promoting any meaningful manifesto commitments or performing its main Parliamentary function, Labour decided to waste resources on a relatively abstruse but important matter. In the end it only succeeded in highlighting its own incompetence.
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