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Labour backbenchers are giving up on their frontbench in the Commons

I wrote last November about the lack of Labour backbenchers willing to support their Government’s Queen’s speech in the Commons.

Rob Wilson blogged earlier about the unwillingness of recent ex-Ministers to speak in the Commons.

A few weeks ago, Jonathan noted that no Labour speaker supported the Fiscal Responsibility Bill – a flagship Government measure – in the Commons at Second Reading.

So have Labour backbenchers been more enthusiastic this week?  Not much.  Here are some highlights from Monday’s Second Reading of another key Government measure – the Crime and Security Bill:

  • Debate began at 15.34. The first Government backbench speaker was Keith Vaz, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee.  He announced that he wouldn’t be supporting the Government: “I will abstain in the vote on Second Reading today because the Home Secretary has not convinced me on the DNA issue.”
  • Second up from the Labour back benches was Neil Gerrard, who said in relation to the DNA database: “I cannot see what the hard evidence is to support the proposals in the Bill.”
  • Third up was Robert Flello, who finished by saying: “The Bill is good in principle, but a lot of it needs further detailed scrutiny, and I would like to table some amendments at a future date.”
  • He was followed by my colleague Tony Baldry, who observed: “The honourable member for Stoke on Trent South spoke for nearly 40 minutes, so I can only assume that the Whips, believing that there was a somewhat thin turnout on the Government side, had exhorted him to go long.  He certainly had not appreciated that the cavalry had arrived, in the shape of the right hon. Member for Harrow East (Tony McNulty) and the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford).”
  • Angela Smith rose from the Government benches at 21.55 – the first fully supportive Government backbencher since front bench speeches ended at 17.58.
  • Later, Tony McNulty said that the Government had “wimped” on mobile phones in prisons and wheel clamping.

Footnote: no Labour backbencher was present at the start of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill on Wednesday. None was present at the start of yesterday’s Topical Debate on the Food Industry. I’m not suggesting that Labour backbenchers should follow the Government position on autopilot.  And I appreciate that what happens in the Commons is usually of minimal interest outside. But it’s important to convey the texture and taste of what’s happening daily in the Commons – namely, the draining away, like blood from a dying man, of authority and command from the Government front bench.

Paul Goodman


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