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“May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.”

William Lenthall, 1591-1662, Speaker of the House of Commons


Introduction

It is likely that anyone who has taken a tour of Parliament, and certainly anyone who has worked in Parliament, will be familiar with the words of Speaker Lenthall (above). They are woven through the narrative that Parliament tells itself, and the world at large, about its sovereignty – the sovereignty that so much of the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union centred on.

Yet, on Wednesday 12 June 2019, we saw an abject failure by MPs to exercise that sovereignty and ensure Parliament is the vehicle by which the final decision on Brexit is made.

This was the opportunity for MPs to put the national interest ahead of narrow personal or party electoral interest and give Parliament the certainty of one more definite opportunity for a considered decision. Whether motivated by a desire to stop Brexit, to ensure Brexit only occurs with some semblance of a functional deal, to avoid dragging the Monarch into politics, or to simply ensure Parliament’s primacy in determining the destiny of the United Kingdom, yesterday was the most tangible chance left to MPs.

They blew it.

Some will have been nervous about their electoral prospects in their seats. The idea that voters in an October General Election would even remember a technical procedural vote held months before is for the birds, but such is how Brexit has warped any rational understanding of electoral dynamics in the current political debate. Whatever, the combination of Labour rebels and abstentions, and independents, together with whipped government MPs, were more than enough to defeat the combined opposition parties and the ten Conservative MPs who had the courage to rebel.

It is worth noting some commentary suggesting the difficulty for Conservative MPs was that this was a Labour Party Opposition Day Debate, held during a Conservative Party leadership contest. However, opportunities present themselves and need to be taken. With the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the Conservative Party all represented in the top six names, there is no doubt this was clearly a cross-party motion.

The failure of MPs to seize the moment was underscored by Sir Oliver Letwin MP on the Today programme: “We have run out of all the possibilities that any of us can at the moment think of.”


Why have they blown it?

In recognising that MPs blew it, it is worth understanding the quiet magnitude of this failure to assert parliamentary sovereignty over a Brexit process that risks becoming the plaything of a Prime Minister elected by a Conservative Party membership that represents – according to its most recent published figures –just  0.27% of the electorate.

Like so much else in this torturous process, yesterday was about time – and who controls the time available to Parliament to debate issues of interest.

The big fear of many who are concerned about the direction of this debate, whether motivated by a desire to avert Brexit, manage Brexit or ensure Parliament retains control, is that one or other of the Conservative leadership candidates is serious about the potential of proroguing Parliament so that Parliament has no time available to it to prevent Britain leaving on October 31 with no deal.

Dominic Raab has been clear that this is an option. Today, Boris Johnson refused to rule it out.

Let that sink in. Potential Prime Ministers are actively considering subverting Parliament by drawing the Monarch into the most intense and toxic political debate this country has had in a generation.

So this is about time.

Yesterday’s debate was held in time that was given to the Official Opposition. Standing Order 14 (2) states that “Twenty days shall be allotted in each session for proceedings on opposition business, seventeen of which shall be at the disposal of the Leader of the Opposition and three of which shall be at the disposal of the leader of the second largest opposition party; and matters selected on those days shall have precedence over government business…” Parliamentary obsessives will have noticed that this is the longest parliamentary session since the English Civil War (1642-51). The opposition days due under the Standing Order have long since been allocated and so additional days, to reflect the fact that you would ordinarily expect a session to last no more than a year, have been set aside for opposition business by agreement between the whips’ offices in ‘usual channels’.

You can immediately begin to see the significance of the problem.

Yesterday was a day allocated for the opposition’s business that, technically, the government did not need to provide. MPs, seized of the need to avert the possibility of a new Prime Minister simply silencing Parliament, tabled a motion that would have created time on June 26 for the House of Commons to take control of the Order Paper and table a business motion or bill that could potentially have curtailed the Prime Minister’s freedom to deny Parliament a say in Brexit.

It was (another) bold move and it was defeated.

Having tried and failed, it is inconceivable that a hostile Conservative government is going to agree to allocate a further day for opposition business in the name of the Leader of the Opposition or the leader of any other opposition party.

Instead, if MPs wish to challenge a Johnson or Raab who intends to shut down Parliament, they will have to test the elasticity of procedure to an even greater extent – and draw on history’s precedents to back them up.

There is hard truth to face, too.

By voting it down yesterday, MPs – perhaps concerned about the short-term optics of the decision – have significantly heightened the rhetoric in a highly-charged debate and risk placing Parliament’s already creaking procedures under even greater strain.

If anyone thinks the idea of this being dangerous is hyperbolic, Rory Stewart, a rival Conservative leadership candidate, has said that “he and other MPs were ready to sit as a parliament outside the Palace of Westminster if Mr Johnson took this step as PM.” He then made the direct comparison with the Civil War.

Think about that for a moment, too.

A candidate who has made it into the second round of voting to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is drawing parallels between the behaviour of the leading candidate to become Prime Minister and the actions of King Charles I that precipitated a bloody nine-year conflict that tore the country apart.

Stewart is suggesting that there is a cadre of MPs prepared to defy the Prime Minister and sit in an alternative Parliament, directly challenging the authority of the government.


Current political context

Just as then, so now we have a Speaker who has fuelled furious debate amongst commentators and experts by demonstrating a clear willingness to champion Parliament’s sovereignty and challenge the executive. But there are other parallels between the political situation at the time that Speaker Lenthall took his stand and now, beyond the flamboyance of the central personalities.

The country was seized by a charged and polarised political debate, the respective narratives driven by an authoritarian executive with contempt for Parliament, and parliamentarians were desperately attempting to use the constitution and parliamentary procedure to constrain that executive. In an article on the Long Parliament, Dr Vivienne Larminie notes how Speaker Lenthall’s tenure was set against a backdrop of “escalating uprising in Ireland and unrest on the streets of London.” In our own politically incendiary times, the centrality of the polarising debate around the backstop and Northern Ireland, and the anger of Remain voters manifesting in a million people marching through London, are a vivid reminder that history can indeed repeat itself.

There are parallels in a (slightly) more recent constitutional crisis, too, as well as possible clues to ways forward for MPs determined to challenge a Prime Minister hell-bent on circumventing Parliament.

Following the removal of the Fox-North coalition from government in 1783 and the installation of William Pitt the Younger as Prime Minister (with the full connivance of George III), Pitt’s arch adversary, the radical Whig Charles James Fox, and his allies, including his friend Thomas Erskine, mounted numerous attempts to challenge a Prime Minister they believed would dissolve Parliament.

William Cobbett, in his journal The Parliamentary History of England, Vol. XXIV, records a debate on Mr Erskine’s Motion for an Address not to Dissolve Parliament (Columns 239-263). He then details the response from His Majesty (Columns 263-264):

It has been my constant object to employ the authority intrusted to me by the constitution, to its true and only end – the good of my people; and I am always happy in concurring with the wishes and opinions of my faithful Commons. I agree with you in thinking that the support of the public credit and revenue must demand your most urgent and vigilant care. The state of the East Indies is also an object of as much delicacy and importance as can exercise the wisdom and justice of Parliament. I trust you will proceed in these considerations with all convenient speed, after such an adjournment as the present circumstances may seem to require. And I assure you I shall not interrupt your meeting by any exercise of my prerogative, either of prorogation or dissolution.

There are significant elements here. The recognition of the primacy of the Commons. The need to act responsibly in the public interest. The expectation of the exercise of care and judgement on the part of Members of Parliament when considering complex and significant matters. The need for a timely resolution. And a clear assurance that the Monarch, even at a time when the role was still highly political, would not be drawn into politics.

The debate on Mr Erskine’s Address has another interesting parallel with contemporary machinations in that it details at quite some length the shifting complexities of the coalitions of interest on the parts of both government and opposition. The striking reference to “Coalition! Coalition! Cursed Coalition!” conjures up an image of a constitutional Marty McFly, witnessing the fallout of 2010-2015 before darting back in time to scribble a note.  Plus ça change.

However, these proceedings suggest that the device of the Humble Address has the potential for a broader application than is usually considered presently. Current understanding generally sees it as a rarely-used procedure to produce government documents. For instance, it was failure to act on the Humble Address of 13 November 2018, requesting the production of the full government legal advice in relation to Brexit, that led to the government being found in contempt of Parliament in December 2018.

But worth noting, too, are the efforts made by Fox in early 1784 to remove Pitt from office, on 2 February, 1 March and 8 March. The Journal of the House of Commons records the first at page 878 as an abstract motion:

However, the second and third, recorded on pages 965 and 977 of the Journal, and which were passed with decreasing majorities (the last, in a spooky foreshadowing of contemporary proceedings, by just one vote) use the device of the Humble Address. This final motion threatened to withhold supply from the government.

 Of course, it is worth emphasising that these parliamentary manoeuvres were ultimately unsuccessful.

A little like Theresa May suffering defeat after defeat, but clinging on, Pitt refused to resign. Eventually, later in March, after his third defeat, he went to the country. Pitt was victorious. [Winning campaigns aside, unkind commentators might also see a comparison with May in the view widely attributed to the historian Asa Briggs that Pitt’s “personality did not endear itself to the British mind, for Pitt was too solitary and too colourless, and too often exuded superiority.”]

However, the stark reality is that MPs are now going to have to dig deep into historical precedent, and get creative with their procedures, if they are to have another chance at creating time to insert Parliament into the Brexit process despite a hostile government.


Routes forward

As the Institute for Government has pointed out, there is no way of guaranteeing that MPs can stop Britain exiting the European Union without a deal.  By foregoing their most recent opportunity, they have made their job considerably harder.

Is Letwin right that MPs have exhausted the possibilities? I don’t know, but I think it is worth debating, if only to raise those issues that are as pertinent today as they were for Charles Fox: the primacy of the Commons, a responsibility for the public good and the need to keep the Monarch out of politics.

I should caution here that there are many others with significantly greater procedural and constitutional expertise, and I am very happy for the flaws in my thinking to be challenged. However, as far as I can see, there are now two major challenges for MPs:

  1. How do MPs create the time for Parliament to act?
  2. How does Parliament then use that time?

First task is to create the time.

The Speaker has been very clear that he is not prepared to see Parliament prorogued. That suggests a willingness to interpret the procedures and conventions of the House to attempt to block any effort.

One way of creating time would be through Standing Order 24. The Speaker has hinted that the opportunities for use of SO24 extend beyond a simple debate on a motion that the House has ‘considered’ a subject (as per, for example, the SNP debate on Brexit on 18 December).

The question then is, what would the substantive motion look like?

That might depend on where we are at in the timetable. Earlier, it might be to insert a business motion to take control of the Order Paper. Later, it might be to pass a Humble Address requesting that prorogation, that offers no procedural opportunities itself in the Commons, not take place – much in the manner of Mr Erskine’s Address.

What if those routes fail?

Then the stakes are raised even higher and the risks for MPs become even greater.

We are back in the territory of motions of ‘no confidence’ and ‘confidence’, and motions for a General Election, with all their attendant unpredictability and consequence.

There are potentially other, less obvious opportunities.

If the government chooses to ‘wash-up’ its legislation, rather than ditch it, then, as in 2015, there would need to be a timetable motion to make sure they could do so. That could be an avenue of attack.

There is also the question of what happens about the money supply for government. From time to time, the government passes Supply and Appropriation Bills to enable itself to spend the money identified in the Estimates. There has to be a question about whether the government could sustain its expenditure were it to prorogue in July (at least one expert I have spoken to suggests government only has enough revenue on account to sustain itself until mid-September). Whilst MPs cannot debate or amend such bills (yes, you read that correctly, take a look at Standing Order 56), were one brought forward they could vote it down and plunge the government into crisis, effectively demonstrating in very real terms that it no longer has the confidence of Parliament to govern. I am sure Charles Fox would have a glint in his eye.

In the most confrontational circumstances, in actions that would be redolent of the Civil War in their symbolism, the Speaker could slam the door of the Commons in the face of Black Rod and refuse to entertain the summons to attend the Royal Commission appointed to prorogue Parliament. Or as Rory Stewart suggests, Parliament could constitute itself separately to challenge the executive, without any constitutional authority other than that which it arrogates to itself on the basis of its members’ elected mandates.

All of these point towards one level or other of procedural or constitutional crisis. However, for any of them to be taken forward, there is another ingredient: the players.

By players, I mean those who are prepared to do, not just speak. As my grandmother would have said: “Fine words butter no parsnips.” And we have had a lot of fine words from people who are prepared to say a lot, in Parliament, in rallies, on the airwaves, but very few buttered parsnips.

An obvious key player is the Speaker.

Rightly or wrongly, comparisons have already been drawn between John Bercow and William Lenthall. Supporters point to his willingness to stand up to the executive. Detractors say he is anything but. What is indisputable is the fact he is an outspoken and driven individual who is not backwards in coming forward.

But where are the other players?

Who has the tenacity, the commitment and the cunning of Fox? Who has the eloquence and wit of Erskine? Corbyn is neither. The Liberal Democrats are currently leaderless. The Green Party is too small. The SNP has a secondary agenda that is too toxic. Stewart subordinated his principles and rhetoric on the perils of no deal to his interest in the leadership contest, voting down Parliament’s opportunity to take control.

Fine words butter no parsnips…


Where does this end?

Bluntly speaking, who knows where this will all end.

It is in the hands of 650 men and women that we have elected to represent us. Actions that once sounded preposterous are part of a conversation in which tens of millions of people feel passionately invested.

We should also be very alert to the toxic nature of this conversation, where narratives utilise the language of ‘fascist’ to describe one side and ‘traitor’ the other. Where journalists are mocked and jeered by politicians. Where the language of rape threats, throwing acid at politicians and donning khaki with a rifle in hand are normalised. Where those who feel their worldviews are summarised by one side of a Leave v. Remain narrative feel their very identity and the future of their children threatened by the other.

But there needs to be a resolution. And Parliament must own it.

Just as Leavers might do as Keir Starmer suggested and pause to consider that things did not end well for Charles I, so Remainers might note that that Charles Fox’s challenges to Pitt resulted in defeat and eighteen years out of power. At times, the current situation seems like the product of a student of constitutional history’s opium-induced nightmare, induced by binging on dystopian Netflix series and reality TV.

Neither civil war, nor eighteen years of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister are edifying prospects.

However, as much as it is incumbent on defenders of our parliamentary democracy to avoid either of those outcomes, it is also incumbent upon them to test parliament’s procedures to their very limits to protect its sovereignty. Our elected representatives must give themselves the chance to take a considered decision – even if that is to give the final say back to the people. Parliament must curb the authoritarian excesses of the hard Brexit cavaliers and the institutions of our democracy must not be usurped by a rogue Prime Minister.

Now, more than ever, we need our Charles Foxes and our Speaker Lenthall.



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After the dishonesty of the referendum campaign, the simplistic boasts of the negotiations about how easy securing Britain’s future would be, and the humiliating chaos of parliamentary proceedings on the Withdrawal Agreement, it is no wonder that the public and our businesses are in such despair at politicians.

Our politics has failed. There is a piece to be written about the way in which Brexit has highlighted and increased pressure on the failure of our democracy and its institutions, but this is not it.

At the time of writing there are just 400 hours until we are due to exit the European Union. If our politicians manage Thatcher levels of sleep – which are probably not the most useful preparation for what must be done over the next 16 days – that leaves just 333 hours in which to do the work. Those that see theological evils in the European Union can be reassured that we can’t even do the ‘Number of the Beast’ properly.

Politicians have dressed their failure with all sorts of unicorn promises about better deals (the ERG and Labour), blame for not getting behind the Prime Minister (Remainers, the ERG and the DUP), and consistent can-kicking (everyone). Each of these groups is flailing around and screaming louder and louder as the ratchet of the clock tightens and the scale of the political problems in taking a decision – any decision – becomes clear. Daniel Finkelstein’s article in the Times today demonstrates the political calculations for just the Conservative Party underlying decisions which should be about the national interest in this mess. Similar calculations apply to Labour and in different ways to all parties.

These challenges will form a fascinating and complicated Venn diagram for future students of political science to study. However, there is no time left for that pontification now. Having proved unsurprisingly so comprehensively incapable of translating a binary, advisory referendum into a complex and lasting solution that commands political support, and having destroyed public trust in our politics in the process, MPs have a very small window in which they can show leadership and re-establish any measure of trust.

Today’s Order Paper is depressing. The Prime Minister’s politically confusing motion states the legal reality of what happens if no deal occurs. The response of the senior, cross-party group of MPs, who cannot agree on a way forward, is to kick the can down the road yet again, tabling an amendment that simply takes no deal off the table and ignores that legal reality. And tomorrow the Commons will vote on a motion for an extension and almost certainly do so without agreeing on a way forward that offers clarity to the public or Brussels. Even now, MPs are pretending to the public that we can secure an extension to continue this torturous farce by simply passing a motion in the House of Commons.

It is time for MPs to be honest about the options – and there are only three that make any sense, the Prime Minister’s deal having been rejected by Parliament so completely on two occasions:

  1. A hard Brexit with no deal;
  2. A revocation of Article 50 and remaining;
  3. A further referendum on the terms of the Prime Minister’s deal or remaining.

It is no good Labour’s lamentable front bench wittering on about another deal. It is no good ERGers bombastically proclaiming there are better ways to negotiate Brexit.

Brussels has been clear: there is no room for further negotiation. None at all. The talking is done.

There is also no transition without a deal.

And there is no extension without a credible and decisive way forward.

Politicians have sold the public varying visions of Britain’s future on the basis of gross oversimplification, to protect their own political interests. They must now grasp the nettle of the consequences of their untruths, and show the public they understand the clear choices they face, however difficult they are to make.

Yes, it will be politically painful. Yes, it might have destructive consequences for our political institutions – our parliament, our electoral system, and our failing ‘broad church’ political parties – but that is the price politicians must pay for their comprehensive failure.

 And that might just be a good thing.

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Introduction

In its fourth term, the post-Soviet Polish Sejm saw 1,264 bills introduced.

That would tax the skills of even this draconian Labour Government’s business managers. However, we had our own little version of this un-democracy this week. And no-one should be under any illusion about the threat to our liberties and our democracy that this cosy procedural stitch-up between Labour and the Conservatives has become.

It is not something that might happen. It has happened. Laws have been passed without scrutiny that further erode our civil liberties and, were we talking about Eastern Germany under the Staatssicherheit, we would be loftily condemning the extension of police state powers.

It is called the “wash-up”.

What is “wash-up”?

Before I can explore it further, you need to understand “wash-up”, the procedural insanity that has been conducted in increasingly authoritarian fashion by successive Labour governments – and colluded in entirely by the Conservative opposition – at the fag-end of a Parliament.

Its academic presentation is entirely respectable: a government has a manifesto that it has promised to deliver and so it is important to secure the passage of as much of that as possible, even though time has run out. Therefore, the political parties are invited to “negotiate” over the content of bills, agreeing which bits to drop and which bits to pass, as there will have to be a lot of business to get the bills through Parliament in two days and not much time for votes. (Bills are not laws until they become acts and, simply put, that can’t happen until they have been voted through by both the Commons and the Lords in the same version. If you are interested, the Parliamentary Education Service has an extensive paper on how laws are made.)

The reality, though, is very different.

Labour and the Conservatives negotiate, the Liberal Democrats are notified – and no-one else is given a look-in.

There is a lot of myth and misconception around “wash-up”, which is happily perpetuated by those political parties – and government officials – who like the simplicity of an institutionalised duopoly (Labour and the  Conservatives). You hear and read a lot about “veto”, especially this time from the Conservatives, who, as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, proclaim loudly when they claim to have forced concessions from Government. (They seem desperate to maintain the sense of entitlement to office that lofty allusion to convention and institution helps confer, especially with the political illiterati in the media.)

That is all bunkum.

There is no constitutional veto wielded by the Official Opposition. The only thing that actually matters are the votes to secure passage of legislation. And it is these that are informed by the earlier negotiations.

The Lords can do whatever it wants, all by simple majority. If it decides it wants to do it, it can.

Of course, it is all much easier to simply carve up decisions between the two old pals, who between them have a majority of votes…

“Cut and shut” legislation

In the Commons, where Labour had a majority, the Government should have been able to deliver its legislation, assuming its MPs had confidence in it.

In the Lords the situation is more complicated as no-one has a majority.

In the Lords the Government has two choices: play along with the confidence trick of “constitutional convention” where none really exists and accede to the Tories wishes; or have the bottle to deliver legislation by entering into discussions with all political parties and those peers on the crossbenches.

It was Labour’s decision to do grubby deals by dodgy handshakes with the Tories,  perpetuating the two-party cosiness.

Worse, they rail-roaded through a bunch of stuff they hadn’t put in any manifesto – either of them.

It is this cowardly, unprincipled wheeling and dealing with our civil liberties and fundamental British freedoms that leaves those genuinely committed to reform despairing at Labour’s lack of resolve and failure to deliver.

For a more graphic image, try looking at it like this.

Imagine the Government Chief Whip as an auctioneer of second-hand cars. Imagine the Tory Chief Whip as a second-hand car dealer at the Government Chief Whip’s auction. The laws that emerge are the product of some last minute chopping and changing between the two of them. The public then find themselves the proud recipients of however many “cut and shut” Acts of Parliament as have been haggled over. (Auto Express warns readers that a “cut and shut” is a deception with no guarantees of structural integrity, safety or handling. Readers musing on this analogy to “wash-up” can draw their own alarming conclusions.)

So how did “wash-up” 2010 work?

First of all, on Tuesday, Harriet Harman made a statement to the House of Commons setting out which bills would be considered and how much time each bill would get.

It was draconian beyond belief.

She announced that in its final two sitting days, the Commons would consider a business motion, thirteen bills and, for good measure, a motion amending the Misuse of Drugs (1971) Act. Amongst those laws being rushed through were the Digital Economy Bill, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and the Crime and Security Bill. All of these are major pieces of legislation, with far-reaching implications for our lives, our communities and the way we govern Britain.

Normally, any one of these would have been subject to many, many hours of debate in the Commons. But not in “wash-up”. For example, the Finance Bill received the longest amount of time: just three hours.

When Labour were in opposition, in 1992, Margaret Beckett raised concerns that they had just four hours to discuss eleven clauses of the Finance Bill.

In 2010, Labour and the Conservatives agreed a timetable that meant that there were just three hours for a second reading and discussion of 73 clauses and 22 schedules of the Finance Bill.

Most bills received just one hour.

Absolute procedural insanity.

It is unbelievable that in 21st Century Britain we allow our lawmakers to pass laws in this way.

If you are not outraged by this travesty of democracy, you should be.

The timetable motion is worth exploring a little further because it reveals the depths of collusion between Labour and the Tories. Debating the Finance Bill, Mark Hoban, speaking for the Tories, tried to make out this was all the Government’s fault and attacked Nick Brown, the Government Chief Whip, attributing Margaret Beckett’s words from 1992 incorrectly to him.

What is remarkable and utterly bizarre about this little tirade is that hours earlier, Mark Hoban’s Conservatives had whipped Conservative MPs through the lobbies in support of this timetable!

As you can see from the division list, the only party united in opposition was the Liberal Democrats, supported by a handful of Labour rebels and Tory mavericks.

The bits that got through – and the bits that should have, but didn’t

These are some highlights of dozens of stitched-up proposals which were rushed through “wash-up” in various bills, despite Liberal Democrat opposition:

Crime and Security Act

  • Draconian DNA provisions in respect of innocent people.
  • The further criminalisation of children.

Digital Economy Act

  • Website-blocking.
  • Bandwidth-throttling and internet disconnection.

Finance Act

  • Secret interception of packages sent in the mail.

These are proposals which were dropped from various bills or business in “wash-up”, despite Liberal Democrat opposition:

Constitutional Reform and Governance Act

  • Reform of the restrictions on the right to protest in the vicinity of Parliament were dropped, maintaining the current infringement of our freedom to protest.
  • A referendum on the voting system (very weirdly the Government were voting yesterday to remove the referendum from their own bill, having announced the day before that they would have a referendum).
  • Powers for the House of Lords to expel peers convicted of criminal offences (so any peers currently facing criminal charges can breathe a sigh of relief – the day job is safe).

Wright Committee Reforms

  • Whilst there was room for thirteen bills and an order, there wasn’t room for the Standing Order changes that had already been discussed and which would have prevented fiascos such as the Digital Economy Bill.

A detailed example of abuse of “wash-up” (or “How Conservatives and Labour colluded to open your post” [packages only, of course, for now])

Back up a bit.

Yes.

You read that right.

The Conservative Party and the Labour Government conspired to change fundamentally the way our postal system works and allow Revenue and Customs to open any package they “suspect” “may” contain something it shouldn’t.

So this is “goods” and applies to “packages” in this instance. But how long before – in the interests of national security of course – the Government feel it is necessary to extend powers of intercept to some new commissioners? And it becomes applicable to written correspondence?

Impossible?

I don’t think so.

Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris challenged the Government over it last night and the Government minister flustered and said it was all about tobacco smuggling.

Ok.

Take a look below at a note I did, marking out the changes to the Postal Services Act 2000:

There is nothing about tobacco smuggling in it. There are no restrictions in fact on content or size of package. And all the safeguards about the recipient being present or notified are removed. As Henry Porter wrote in the Guardian recently: “We must ask ourselves how many more rights are seized by government and its agencies before Britain becomes the GDR’s most obvious European imitator.”

Because it was Clause 59 of the Finance Bill, and there were only three hours for debate, it didn’t get reached for discussion. In fact, by the time MPs got on to the bit where they consider the bill in detail, line-by-line, there were only 28 minutes left to look at the whole bill.

Think about that for a moment.

28 minutes for a line-by-line examination of the bill that would usually – for the Finance Bill – take months in Committee.

This change to the law was made without a single second of proper scrutiny – and without a single vote. Worse, it was made without even the opportunity for a vote.

And that is what the Conservative Party and Labour Party wanted.

Coda

This is your democracy. This is your Parliament.

This is the system that has served the Conservative and Labour parties very nicely  over the years and that the Liberal Democrats have consistently wanted to change.

We have been consistently opposed by both of them.

So when you get angry about the website-blocking powers in the Digital Economy Act, or outraged that corrupt peers will be able to still sit in the House of Lords even after a criminal conviction, remember which two parties colluded to work this all out: the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.

Think about the Postal Services Act 2000 and the Finance Act 2010.

Don’t get angry at the failure of reformers to reform a system that they are consistently blocked from changing by the Old Pals’ act.

Instead, vote for more reformers.

Vote for more Liberal Democrats.

And take back your Parliament.

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