Weekly Column

In Praise of Opposition

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We enjoy a bilateral style of Parliamentary democracy in this country. One political party is elected to power by virtue of a majority in the House of Commons, and the other other becomes recognised as “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.” It’s not a consensual committee. The Government governs, and the Opposition’s job is to ‘hold them to account’ by scrutinising what they are doing, by pointing out the weaknesses in our arguments; and then ultimately seeking to persuade the electorate that they would form a better government. Our unwritten constitution demands a robust Opposition keeping the governing party in check and offering the electorate a real choice. It is disappointing when that does not happen.I am always ready to admit that the Government gets things wrong. We Tories have no monopoly on correctness, no God-given right to rule the Nation (although we have done so for about 80% of the last 100 years or so). And there ought to have been plenty of ‘open goals’ for Labour over the last few months- the economy, standard of living, last knockings of Brexit; personality turbulence within our party. Labour should be knocking spots off us; they should be 30% ahead in the polls; their leader overwhelmingly popular. That was how it was in 1995 in the run up to Tony Blair’s landslide victory. A quick comparison with now bodes ill for them. The lead they scored in the local government elections a few weeks ago of 8% would not translate into an overall majority at the General Election. It would most probably mean some kind of hung Parliament. Keir Starmer lays an egg at PMQs every week, both by choosing the wrong topic to run with, and by delivering his attacks in such a nasal and dreary way.Seeking to topple a Home Secretary because, it is alleged, she asked her civil servants if she could have a one-to-one speed awareness course rather a group one, is absurd. As Tory grandee Sir Edward Leigh commented “scandals in the old days used to be about sex, about corruption; it was about illegal wars, the selling of honours.” ‘Speed awareness course gate’ barely features on the scandal Richter scale, yet the Shadow Home Secretary is focussing all of her efforts on it. That’s a token of how little they have to say on the great events of the day. And the wrecked SNP and insignificant Lib Dems barely show up at all.The ’Stop Oil’ protestors were meanwhile (rather illogically) disrupting that great green event, the Chelsea Flower Show just down the road from Parliament perhaps having more impact on the body politic than poor dear Keir Starmer. I was delighted that the winner was Wiltshire-based charity Horatio’s Garden, who provide gardens for hospitals, especially for those with spinal injuries in memory of Wiltshire schoolboy Horatio Chapple who was so tragically killed by a polar bear in Svalbard a few years ago.So Parliamentary life continues largely untroubled by HMLO. I am chairing the committee to consider the detail of the massive Energy Bill – 4 three-hour sessions a week- so far without votes of any kind. We’ve been having a little more trouble from the non-Tory majority in the House of Lords who are tinkering with our legislation. But then again the Commons accepts very much of what their Lordships propose, and just ‘ping-pong’ those things on which we feel strongly as the elected House. The Procedure Committee spent three hours quizzing the Party Chief Whips, the Leader of the House and the Speaker on the thorny issue of proxy voting for those with disabling medical conditions; and then we quietly rose for the Whitsun Recess and time to contemplate these great matters of State back in our constituencies.Good democracy demands stronger opposition than we currently enjoy. Come on, Labour: Brace up and do a better job of it.

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James Gray
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Published Date
May 26, 2023