It could have promised so much, but delivered so little. The potential rebellion of about 80 back bench Tory MPs over the renewal of the Coronavirus Act was thwarted, first by the Speaker who didn’t select the Brady Amendment due to legal uncertainty it might bring about (though he had strong words for the Government about treating Parliament with contempt it was, just that – words). Then it was thwarted by the MPs themselves by failing to vote against renewal – something which might have put a rocket up the Government by sealing words with actions – except most didn’t. Such is the power of the party Whip perhaps, or such is the tendency for some representatives to obey the party line.
What they accepted, instead, was a mealy mouthed assurance they would be consulted more if it was convenient, with so many caveats it’s not worth the toilet paper its written on in terms of restraining the Government. Perhaps this is not surprising, safety in numbers and all that – weak MPs are unwilling to really take a stand when they can make a token gesture and then hide behind the cabinet and sit tight. What sounded like big talk was offered just enough of what sounded like a worthless compromise to let rebels save face while continuing to go along to get along. What is also not surprising is that this has been hailed in some places as the government ‘caving in’ rather than the tiresome brushing-off it really offered. How some media sources love to spin drama out of very little.
The ‘compromise’ contains nothing by way of guarantees, didn’t amend a single line of legislation, and is worth as much as anything we’ve been told… yes, that little. Matt Hancock’s statement contains enough loopholes and ‘buts’ as to make the compromise sound, well, like business as usual in the new normal:
“We will consult parliament,” he said, “and wherever possible, we will hold votes before such regulations come into force. But of course, responding to the virus means that the government must act with speed when required.
“And we cannot hold up urgent regulations which are needed to control the virus and save lives. I am sure that no member of this house would want to limit the government’s ability to take emergency action in the national interest as we did in March.”
In other words, crisis is still the rallying cry of the tyrant. Nothing has changed. Our rights are still watered down, and Government may still do whatever it wants to dilute them further within the Act and might let Parliament have a say first… and might not.
So, who did have the guts to stand against this extaordinary amount of unaccountable ’emergency’ power?
Seven Tories: Peter Bone, Philip Davies, Philip Hollobone, Esther McVey, Desmond Swayne, Charles Walker, William Wragg.
Six Labour: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Dawn Butler, Kevan Jones, John Spellar, Graham Stringer and Derek Twigg.
Nine Lib Dems: Daisy Cooper, Ed Davey, Tim Farron, Wera Hobhouse, Christine Jardine, Layla Moran, Sarah Olney, Jamie Stone, Munira Wilson.
One Green: Caroline Lucas.
One Alliance Party: Stephen Farry.
Notably missing was Graham Brady the amendment proposer, and Steve Baker who allegedly spearheaded the rebellion and may be remembered for his emotional criticism of the Act when it was first approved – before promptly voting in favour of it, and then voting to renew it 6 months later. So much hot air, and no action.
My thanks go to the MPs who actually did stand against the extension of powers. There are better ways of handling this than that Act, these few MPs know it, I know it, lots of the public know it. It’s time the Government and rest of Parliament acted like they knew it too.