An early start and off to Westminster with a spring in my step. Today is the day that we hold the UK Government to account over their simply appalling Elections Bill. It’s the only debate of the day and therefore should be at least 6 hours with votes added at the end. Two select committees have ripped into it and organisations such as Age UK, MENCAP, Sense, RNIB, Stonewall and the Runnymede Trust have all warned that this bill will place barriers in the way of their members which will reduce the number of people voting. Similar legislation in Northern Ireland saw a downturn which if extrapolated across the UK would see a reduction of voters in the region of 1.1 million. Experience has taught me that I should prepare no more than six minutes. Upon arriving I am staggered to see that three statements have been tabled. That’s three hours gone. My six minutes becomes 5 then 4 then none. And my exasperation grows. The Tory vote is carried in six votes. All opposition amendments are defeated, and the bill is passed. Democracy is weakened. My earlier jaunty demeanour is reduced to a sad hunched figure wandering back to my hotel at 22:30 in a bitterly cold London clutching an egg and cress sandwich and a pint of milk.
My select committee took evidence from the National Audit Committee regarding expenditure in the Cabinet Office. I don’t know if it was tiredness or the numbers that were being quoted but something made my eyes water. The number of people employed in the cabinet office in 2015-16 was 2,300 and by 2020-21 it had grown to 9,800 and now costs £0.7 billion a year. Another cost is the £8.4 million to lease the Prime Ministers jet, that is before additional sortie costs. The Prime Minister’s self-gratification just goes on and on. In the afternoon the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual Exploitation, heard from experts about children being exposed to pornography and the damage it has on them. The internet is a prime facilitator of much of it and serious regulation is required to protect children from inadvertently being subjected to pornography at an early age. Exposure to this material normalises violent and abusive behaviour and leads to stress, anger and sexual aggression later in life.
The usual Finance and Economy meeting is followed by Prime Minister’s questions. But not before we are treated to the spectacle of Christian Wakeford ‘crossing the floor’. The Conservative and Unionist MP for Bury South joined the Labour Party. The same MP who criticised the Labour Party for not representing working class communities and believes that the Conservative government has delivered for the people of this country. And to put a tin hat on it, he is the same MP that said if an elected member changes party then that should trigger a by-election. I agree with him on that, but I am not holding my breath. Much to some people’s surprise, it is the same Prime Minister as last week. Given the Prime Minister’s behaviour there were expectations that his own party would rip him down, but they are the same people that put him in power in the first place and so the circus continues. His performance was bullish and energetic. This is a man that clearly thinks he has been let off the hook. During the subsequent covid statement I questioned the Prime Minister’s ability to lead by showing a responsible attitude. No doubt the political manoeuvres shall continue but for the moment the Prime Minister looks to be safe. That is until the media reveal the next scandal.
PACAC was scheduled to take evidence from Alex Chisholm (Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and the chief operating officer of the United Kingdom’s Civil Service) and Steve Barclay MP
(Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office) around the workings of the Cabinet Office including their handling of freedom of information requests. But before we started the chair issued a statement saying that Conservative and Union MPs had been bullied and blackmailed into supporting their Prime Minister. The allegations are that money, designated for important projects in their constituencies, could be withdrawn if they exercise their right and express discontent with the prime minister. We also heard that they are being threatened with smear stories. Understandably this took most of the headlines, but the evidence session also went well.
Today was mostly constituency casework briefings and an opportunity to catch up with local councillors.