Parliament Matters – War powers, Rwanda ‘mayhem’ and Ian Dunt on the state of Westminster (Episode 16)

19 Jan 2024
HMS Diamond. ©Royal Navy (CC BY 2.0 Deed)
HMS Diamond. ©Royal Navy (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

The Rwanda Bill is through the Commons. Rishi Sunak has faced down his internal critics and diffused a backbench rebellion. The Bill now heads off to the House of Lords: What mayhem awaits it?

This week’s air strikes against Houthi camps in Yemen to protect Red Sea shipping also prompted debate about the role Parliament should play when the Government deploys military force. Dr James Strong joins us in the studio to discuss Parliament and war powers.

And one of the best books about Westminster for many years has been penned by the political commentator Ian Dunt. As luck would have it Ruth and Mark were with Ian at the parliamentary nerdathon, the Study of Parliament Group annual conference, in Oxford. So, they got him to talk about his diagnosis of the problems with Parliament and his solutions.

Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

Parliament Matter Episode 16

Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:29:03

You are listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society Production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at Welcome to Parliament Matters, the podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy - Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox. and Mark D'Arcy. Coming up. The Rwanda Bill is through the Commons. Rishi Sunak has faced down his internal critics.

00:00:29:03 - 00:00:45:21

He's defused a backbench rebellion that wanted the bill to be a great deal tougher. And now the bill heads to the Lords where all kinds of mayhem awaits. The week started, of course, on a note of controversy when the UK joined the United States in airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen to protect shipping in the Red Sea.

00:00:46:02 - 00:01:04:05

It prompted a debate about what role Parliament should play when military action has been taken by the government. So we'll be joined by Dr. James Strong of Queen Mary University, one of our resident experts, to discuss what role parliament has when military action is being taken. Perhaps what role should it have, and what is wrong with the whole institution of parliament.

00:01:04:05 - 00:01:29:05

One of the best books about Westminster for many years has been penned by the political commentator Ian Dunt. As luck would have it, Ruth and I found ourselves in a room with him in Oxford and we got him to talk about his diagnosis of the problems in Parliament and his solutions. Well, Mark, we called it right on Wednesday.

00:01:29:05 - 00:01:47:07

Last week we said that no amendments to the bill and we said that it would survive third reading when the Conservative MP, the rebels looked over into the abyss of voting down the wrong government's legislation at third reading. They decide against it and that's what they did. So they were just 11 rebels, just 11 in the end, some quite big names in there.

00:01:47:07 - 00:02:08:10

The former home secretary, Suella Brafman, Robert Jenrick, the former immigration minister, Simon Clarke, another former cabinet minister, said these were not No Mark backbenchers no one had ever heard of. They were not parliamentary life. They were, you know, serious players in the Conservative Party. But some of the rhetoric that was floating around during this was really quite striking.

00:02:08:10 - 00:02:43:03

I mean, someone was quoting a line from the Batman films about how some people just want to watch the world burn and they weren't talking about the opposition. They were talking about their own troops. They were talking about the potential rebels. And that gives just a flavour of quite how fraught things are in conservative at the moment. Yeah, but then on the other side, the comments, which have attracted a lot of a lot of heat and criticism by Lee Anderson, one of the sort of the leading rebels, of course, resigned from his position as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party because he wanted to vote for some of the amendments on the bill and then

00:02:43:03 - 00:03:08:11

got a third reading, apparently walked into the voting lobby with the opposition to vote against the government, was greeted by Labour MPs with ridicule and humour, and they were mocking him and promptly walked out and said, I can't do it, you know, pretty extraordinary. He must have known that if he was going to vote against his own government and have to walk into the same lobby as the as the Labour MPs, there was going to be some ribbing.

00:03:08:13 - 00:03:32:18

He decided he couldn't do it. I haven't got the stomach for it. And well, frankly, you wouldn't want him in the trenches with you. This is one of the problems that you've got when you start rebelling against your own tribe. You know, the famous line that was deployed at Hugh Gaitskell when he Gaitskell came out against the Common Market many years ago, his wife, as opposed to said to him when he did this great speech, about a thousand years of history in a and a Labour Party conference, who the wrong people are cheering.

00:03:32:18 - 00:03:54:10

It can be a very disconcerting experience when you're getting cheered, even ironically by the other lot, whoever the other lot happened to be. And that was clearly what happened to Lee Anderson. He didn't like it at all. But the point about Lee Anderson that people need to hold on to here is he was put into that job as the conservative who could communicate with Red Wall voters.

00:03:54:12 - 00:04:13:11

Rishi Sunak didn't seem to be connecting very well in those seats. Lee Anderson holds one of them, and it was his job to try and speak to that section of the Boris Johnson coalition, if you like. And now the Anderson's out. What signal does that send? The other thing about Anderson, of course, is he Labour used to be his tribe.

00:04:13:15 - 00:04:34:16

Yeah, because he used to work for the Labour MP Gloria Piero back in the day and now he holds the seat and now he holds the seat and you know, Labour and people are apparently saying to him, come on Lee, are you rejoining us? And he felt very uncomfortable politically. The other side of it, I mean I am deeply uncomfortable about in terms of the role of MPs is he goes out and speaks to his pals.

00:04:34:19 - 00:05:04:04

GB News He's got a very big contract with GB News to present programmes and he goes and gives the news to them about what he's voting position is. I mean, it's a deeply uncomfortable situation where a national media channel has got MPs in their party. The whole business of GB news employing an awful lot of sitting MPs is attracting a little bit of attention at the moment and people are directing Ofcom the regulator's attention to it and I think more may be heard of that.

00:05:04:04 - 00:05:24:21

But possibly the other side of a forthcoming general election of I guess. Yeah, yeah. So the bill goes to the House of Lords and the Prime Minister's already held a press conference quick out the gate where he didn't seem to actually have an answer to many questions, but he wanted to get across the message that House of Lords should not interfere with this Bill, not interfere with the will of the people in the electorate, Piers, etc..

00:05:24:22 - 00:05:45:11

Yeah, by definition, Piers are unelected. But hey, yes, I'm the job of the House of Lords is to revise legislation that's its number one purpose, to review and make suggestions to the House of Commons about how it could improve things. So those are the Lords and then this question of how long will the Lords take over it and what are they going to do with it?

00:05:45:11 - 00:06:05:02

Are they going to kick it around, give it a good kicking, send it back to the Commons with quite a few amendments. So it's quite an interesting piece of political calibration this fall. Labour's a party that is now rather hoping it's going to be in government in the not too distant future. I think part of the dynamic that will drive the way this is treated as all this is Labour is going to do is it would be done by.

00:06:05:04 - 00:06:26:20

So it's not going to want to set a precedent for eviscerating government bills that might be applied against it in, as I say, the not too distant future. There is talk a bit of sabre rattling coming from some peers, not particularly from the Labour Party, but peers like Alex Coghlan, the former reviewer of Terrorist legislation, a former Liberal MP back in the day.

00:06:26:22 - 00:06:49:06

No, I think non-aligned talking about this bill ought to be thrown out at second reading, so it should literally be ditched, which is not something the peers normally do to government legislation. The convention that's often cited is the Salisbury Anderson convention that manifesto bills are never thrown out by the House of Lords at second Reading that first debate.

00:06:49:08 - 00:07:08:23

But this is not a manifesto, Bill, but it is a bill that's very, very important to the government of the day, as we've just been saying, given the political heat around it in the Commons, the critics of the bill, people like Alex Carr, points to the fact that it seeks to muscle in on the role of the courts and declare Rwanda to be a safe country and courts cannot rule otherwise.

00:07:09:00 - 00:07:30:10

And so it's the law of the land that Rwanda is safe. And you know, Piers, of compared this to declaring all dogs to be cats. You're making a finding of fact in law that way. And they're saying this is not the role of parliament. So that's one of the causes that's being advanced as a reason why this bill should just be thrown out on sight as a violation of constitutional principles and proper separation between parliament and the judiciary.

00:07:30:15 - 00:07:47:05

Yeah, but I mean, Piers, like Alex Carlile, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, who are probably the most the most outspoken on this, on sort of one wing of the thinking in the Lords, they're not the centre of gravity in this debate. Labour is going to be critical and they will not vote to reject the bill at second reading.

00:07:47:09 - 00:08:11:06

I cannot see any scenario in which that that happens. As you say, they're going to be looking at, you know, the constitutional position. This bill has been passed by the House of Commons, comes to the Lords, the Labour peers are going to give it a hearing and seek to amend it. And from that perspective, as you say, looking ahead to the election and then they think being in power after that election, they're not going to have majority in the House of Lords.

00:08:11:08 - 00:08:35:11

The Conservative Party is the largest party in the Lords, and Labour would have to appoint an awful lot of peers to get to parity, never mind to become the largest party. They don't want to do that either because of the optics, the way that looks. So they're going to have to be relying in terms of the next Parliament on the Conservative peers playing ball and recognising the dominance and the pre-eminence of the Labour position in the House of Commons.

00:08:35:13 - 00:09:06:02

They certainly don't want to be in a position of rejecting a bill passed by the Commons at this point for fear that Conservative peers might do that to them in the next Parliament on a bill that they don't like. And I can almost hear the sort of weary sigh of ennui coming out of the Labour leadership. They'll say, Look, we're a potential party of government and the Lib Dems and some of the crossbenchers and the Greens can afford to take these big, bold looking positions, striking poses, because they won't actually have to follow through on it.

00:09:06:02 - 00:09:43:07

We, the Labour Party, don't want to set those kind of precedents and then maybe some words about posturing with a few rather rude words attached to them as well coming from that direction. But the key point here is that no one beats the Government in the Lords if the Labour Party isn't on board in a vote. Yeah. So what you need to be looking forward to is the stage when the bill comes up to be amended report stage and what you look out for there is big multi-party signed amendments where there will be a Labour frontbencher and a prominent crossbencher and a Lib Dem, maybe a green, maybe a bishop in a big sort of

00:09:43:07 - 00:10:03:10

coalition, signalling that there's very wide support behind some particular proposition and there are all sorts of ways in which that might happen. I mean you can see amendments, for example, widening the grounds on which a deportation might be challenged. You can imagine amendments on that point about declaring Rwanda to be safe, to roll that back. And a House of Lords Committee has been weighing in as well.

00:10:03:14 - 00:10:22:09

Yes. So the other factor that we've got to take into account is the House of Lords International Agreements Committee, which looks at all treaties that have to be laid before Parliament. It's published a report this week saying that it doesn't think the Rwanda treaty should be ratified until the panoply of arrangements to underpin this Rwanda deal are in place.

00:10:22:09 - 00:10:42:17

And at the moment they're not. Interestingly, one of the things I hadn't realised is that apparently the Rwandan government also has to legislate to put some of these things in place as well. So the House of Lords Committee has said no, we need to see the evidence on the grounds, you know, the material changes before we should ratify the interesting debate about whether the Government respects that.

00:10:42:17 - 00:11:06:18

I suspect not. But in any event, there's going to be a debate in the House of Lords next week on this question. So we'll get a sense of where peers across the House, where they're thinking is. I think in that initial debate before the bill gets to them. But certainly my expectation is that when this finally gets to its report stage in the House of Lords and there's got to be a second reading, and then there's a committee stage, a sort of shadowboxing around some of these issues.

00:11:06:22 - 00:11:26:13

But when you get to that report stage, you can expect some quite significant changes to be made to the bill before it's thrown back to the Commons. And M.P.s will then have to decide whether to accept or reject those changes. The government, I think, is in repair all borders mode here. So unless there's some technical change it thinks is necessary, broadly speaking, it's going to veto any changes made in the Lords.

00:11:26:19 - 00:11:45:16

The bill will bounce back again, how long that process goes on. Interesting question. Yeah, so we'll have to wait and see. And of course, one advantage for Labour of throwing the bill back to the Commons potentially a couple of times is that it does allow for another act in the conservative political psychodrama here just reopened old wounds rub a bit of salt in to them.

00:11:45:16 - 00:12:10:13

I was very struck by something Rob Robert we had on this podcast a couple of weeks back wrote at the end of the first stage of that debate, who said the Conservative MP didn't seem to realise they were in an aircraft that had both wings had fallen off, it was about to crash. Individual backbenchers just have to hope they survive the crash and b that those of their colleagues who were less fortunate were edible.

00:12:10:15 - 00:12:37:16

dear. Well, yes, well, we'll see what the Lords make of it. The pickings of the roundtable looking ahead beyond this this legislation then to to next week's events, it sounds like a fairly quiet by comparison. We are thinking in the Commons ahead. But first up, they've got the offshore petroleum licensing bill, which of course was supposed to have been dealt with immediately after they came back from recess.

00:12:37:17 - 00:12:59:10

And the second reading was postponed because there were so many post recess statements that they wouldn't really have been time to deal with at all, or that was what was said. This was, of course, the occasion, the resignation of Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP and net zero adviser to the government, who had basically had enough and simply didn't accept that it was necessary to license more fossil fuel extraction.

00:12:59:12 - 00:13:18:07

So he's now left Parliament altogether. There'll be a by election in his seat, but maybe the heat, not the global warming, the heat generated by Chris Skidmore was was sufficient. They didn't really want to have that debate that day, but they're having it next week. And interestingly, they're taking the bill, the detail consideration of the bill, the committee stage as committee of the whole House.

00:13:18:07 - 00:13:38:24

They're not sending it up to a committee upstairs. And that seems rather odd because this is a relatively technical actually quite slight bill. It gives the government an obligation to do something it already has the power to do, which is licence more fossil fuel extraction. So it's not exactly a vast piece of legislation. It seems an odd thing to take it on the floor of the whole House because that's normally reserved for things that are of constitutional importance.

00:13:38:24 - 00:14:03:18

And I'm not sure that this bill is frankly of any importance. Well, of course, the critics said it's a it's a smoke and mirrors bill, and basically requiring the government to do something that it can already do at the moment, which is produce these annual licences for offshore petroleum drilling. But if you were having a taking a charitable view of the government's position, you could say they're a little bit short of substantive legislation to put in the floor of the House.

00:14:03:18 - 00:14:23:11

So it's a bit of a time filler. The uncharitable view would be that they'd quite like to basically get some of the statements in the in the debate about this whole discussion around net zero and the costs of it to the public in terms of how we change our economic model, the impact that it's going to have on on the household finances.

00:14:23:13 - 00:14:40:04

They'd like to get some of that critique on the record with the Labour Party that they can use in the election is seen as a bill that's one of the dividing lines for the for the government. So that's why they want it in the chamber rather than in a committee so that it's in full view of the of the cameras in the media.

00:14:40:05 - 00:15:18:13

I wonder if this is partly the legacy of the Uxbridge byelection, which the Conservatives at one point had expected to lose, but which was held because the Conservatives campaigned very effectively against the ultra low emission zone in Greater London, the Ulez, which was pushing up the price of driving for Uxbridge residents. Now, the lesson that seems to have been taken from that is that there are votes to be had from looking at the cost of green commitments that have been rather blithely signed up to by previous governments and fair enough, there's a campaigning issue there, but I'm not completely sure that having a committee of the whole House is the way to get a lot

00:15:18:13 - 00:15:38:15

of publicity for something most of the time there will be a vote on it, no doubt, and conservatives will be able to say Labour voted against this bill. But there are recent amendments to deny this bill. A second reading, not just from Labour, but also from the SNP, also from the Lib Dems, also from the Green MP, Caroline Lucas and various other supporters of hers in the Commons.

00:15:38:15 - 00:16:01:14

So the dividing lines that exist are pretty obvious and there for all to see. Yeah, so we'll see what happens. There's going to be a lot of time to fill in and committee the whole House and that brings us to an interesting piece of research we published this week about the fact that MPs are speaking more often for shorter periods in the House than they have for many years.

00:16:01:14 - 00:16:27:01

So there's more interventions, but they are they are much shorter. Is this, though, just a result of the time limiting of speeches that now routinely takes place where the speaker or deputy speaker gets up and announces, I'm now limiting speeches to 3 minutes and you can see people quickly shredding their speeches instead of trying to take a red biro to them and cut down their spiels to something that can fit into the available time.

00:16:27:03 - 00:16:52:14

That's a big part of it, I think. But the researchers, Stephen Holden Bates and Caroline Bhattacharya at Birmingham University, they broadened the argument. So it's a little bit more than that. It's there's also different types of possible interventions that perhaps didn't exist in the past. So you've got Westminster Hall debates, there's more opportunities there. That's a chamber off the main chamber where things like backbench business petitions and debates are held.

00:16:52:16 - 00:17:20:16

But there's also things like ministerial statements, urgent questions which provide the opportunity for interventions which are much shorter than you would get in a normal debate. So there's a broader issue in place. But this next question of time limits on speeches, I mean, it's it's really difficult, if you may, you've prepared a speech and, you know, the lower you get down the order and you suddenly, you know, you come from well, you might have started out at seven or 8 minutes and then it's suddenly down to three is the time drags on.

00:17:20:18 - 00:17:49:03

There was a great debate in the House of Lords is this they have a similar challenge that they had a debate on parliamentary democracy and peers were limited to 3 minutes. I mean, it doesn't give you an awful lot of time to open up your argument. Yeah, well, brevity is preferable to verbosity. That may be my response. And sometimes I think it sharpens up parliamentarians immensely if they can't just ramble on until they eventually hit a substantive point, which they then attempt to circumnavigate.

00:17:49:05 - 00:18:19:06

So I think a system that kind of forces people to think through what they're saying and find a crisp way of saying it is not necessarily an entirely bad thing. I remember years ago covering Leicester City Council likes to sit through these interminable council debates, and I once sarcastically suggested to a senior Labour councillor there was all Labour councillors in Leicester at the time that what they ought to do is amend standing orders so that the press bench could move next business when we go forward and that doesn't strike me as an entirely bad principle.

00:18:19:06 - 00:18:44:20

Sometimes people can ramble on forever without saying anything substantive. At the same time, some faults are not confined to a few bullet points and need to be explored a little more distance. How you strike that balance is very difficult. The Commons now, I think, suffers from being routinely kind of guillotined to the point where Nmps basically have a chance to make one sort of kind of nugget point before they're told to sit down and shut up.

00:18:44:22 - 00:19:01:15

But of course what they want is the nugget point for a lot of them, because you can see a lot of them are effectively trying to get the sort of 2 minutes so that they can get clickable content for social media and they seem to have they sat down then the video is out there on Twitter or X or whatever we're calling it these days.

00:19:01:17 - 00:19:18:22

And it gives people, I think, a slightly misleading idea of what parliamentary debate is actually like, because often they will present what they said as a triumph, even if it's comprehensively demolished by a couple of subsequent speakers. It's something that always often struck me about Jeremy Corbyn posts. You know, Jeremy Corbyn eviscerates the government ever such and such.

00:19:18:22 - 00:19:34:17

He makes a great sort of attacking comment, but you never find out what anybody else said. So you don't know whether the attack stuck or not. And if you just sort of believe in one person and all you want to hear is their voice, that's absolutely fine. But there's usually more to it than that in the parliamentary debate.

00:19:34:18 - 00:19:56:19

Yeah, and one of the things in the course of sometimes speaking in the debate and there aren't actually that many people in the chamber and you do sort of lose I think we haven't got and can't think of many great speeches in recent years which have changed the tone of debate in the chamber or, you know, move people try to a broader audience outside the house.

00:19:56:21 - 00:20:27:16

It's hard to swing people with a pre-scripted soundbite. Yeah, yeah. And you know I like the audience often is is it actually sitting in their offices watching it on the TV monitors? The nature of parliamentary debate has certainly changed. But the thing that really matters in parliamentary debates is whether they're ever going to make any difference. If the dogs in the street know that come hell or high water, more or less whatever set in the chamber, the vote is going to go in a certain way because the government's got such a big majority, then that really does let the gas out of any debate.

00:20:27:16 - 00:20:55:20

It deflates it completely. It doesn't it? Yeah, well, British forces are once again involved in an armed intervention in the Middle East alongside American forces. This time it's to protect shipping in the Red Sea from missile attacks and other attacks by the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It's an obscure conflict that's been rumbling on forever in the Yemen and really the Western involvement has only come because of a threat to one of the world's major shipping arteries.

00:20:55:20 - 00:21:15:10

All the trade that goes up towards the Suez Canal and into Europe would have to be diverted all the way around Africa if the Red Sea was actually close to shipping. So it's a very important economic reason driving this intervention. But when British forces became involved, one of the big questions that was immediately Reiss, is why parliament hadn't been asked about it.

00:21:15:12 - 00:21:41:03

And with me to explain some of the reasons why that didn't happen is Professor James Strong, senior lecturer in British politics and foreign Policy, a Queen Mary, University of London. James, this was, as I understand it, done under what are called prerogative powers, which are essentially the powers the King used to have that are now exercised by a Prime Minister as head of an elected government, which cover things often like treaty making, but also sending in the troops.

00:21:41:04 - 00:22:03:03

Absolutely. The royal properties is what's left to start off with an absolute monarchy and gradually graft bits of democracy onto it over time. And in the case of military deployment powers, the ownership of the armed forces stays with the crown. But the political decision about how you use it, where you send it and so on, that by convention is exercised by the Prime Minister.

00:22:03:05 - 00:22:35:12

So what we see in this case is in legal terms, the order ultimately comes from the king, but the king doesn't actually get to make the decision. The prime minister makes the decision. And that's what we see in this case. But we have seen precedents in the not too distant past for Parliament being asked to authorise military action, notably Tony Blair going to Parliament to seek authorisation for the invasion alongside the Americans of Iraq, but also the abortive attempt to get involved in a bombing in Syria in 2013, which for the House of Commons actually refused.

00:22:35:14 - 00:22:58:11

So why not this time? Well, absolutely. We've seen since 2003 an expectation, potentially a new constitutional convention coming up that the House of Commons should have the opportunity to veto certain types of military deployment. This begins with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and he's voted by about a 75% margin to approve that invasion. And it continues under Prime Minister David Cameron.

00:22:58:11 - 00:23:21:22

We have a vote on military action in Libya in 2011, albeit just after the start of the operation. We have the veto of military action in Syria in August 2013 and we have two votes on military action against Daesh in Iraq and in Syria in 2014 and 2015. And at the time, certainly by 2015, there was a general belief that a new convention had emerged.

00:23:21:22 - 00:23:43:03

It is referred to in the Cabinet manual, it's referred to by senior politicians in both the Conservative and Labour parties. And yet, as we've seen this time around, apparently it's not an absolute rule. So what's the distinction here? Are we talking about Parliament's permission is needed if British boots are going on the ground, but not necessarily if British bombs are going to be dropped?

00:23:43:05 - 00:24:02:05

The convention, as it originally emerged, always had in it an emergency exception. David Cameron, who was otherwise very willing to consult on military action. He was very clear in an emergency situation where there was an urgent threat to human life or whether it was an urgent threat to the national interest. We'd have to act first and come back later and explain why we've done it.

00:24:02:07 - 00:24:21:09

And partly what's going on here is the Prime Minister is arguing that this was an emergency situation, that it was necessary to take urgent action to protect shipping in the region. There wasn't enough time to recall parliament. There wasn't enough time to have a full debate beforehand. He had no choice. He had to go ahead. Is part of the problem that we're not actually in charge of this operation.

00:24:21:09 - 00:24:44:11

It's an American led operation. So we're sort of the junior partner to this. The Americans weren't very happy back in the in 2013 when we put the issue to parliament. Parliament voted against it. And the Obama administration then felt that they couldn't go ahead. They felt that they'd been hamstrung by that decision. So it's part of the sort of the thinking also that the Americans don't want any discussion of this beforehand.

00:24:44:13 - 00:25:04:04

They don't want any political constraints on it. One of the biggest strategic arguments against having prior parliamentary votes on military action is that it makes it hard to make credible international commitments. It's hard to make promises to your allies and it's hard to make threats to your enemies. If there's always the possibility that parliament is going to step in and stop something from happening.

00:25:04:06 - 00:25:22:23

This is actually one reason why a number of the countries that have formal War Powers Act that sets out when that parliament can get involved in these decisions actually have exceptions for things like the ATO, Article five operations or operations in direct support of U.N. Security Council resolutions. So absolutely, one of the things that's going on in this case is it's a US led operation.

00:25:23:02 - 00:25:42:04

It's usually going to be a US led operation when the UK is taking military action overseas. And absolutely there were concerns in 2013 about the UK becoming less reliable as an ally. It's also a question simply about when things happen. It is a fact that the UK Prime Minister did not have control over the timing of the operation itself.

00:25:42:09 - 00:25:59:04

He didn't have the option of saying, well, it's going to take 48 hours to recall the House of Commons and have a debate, so let's put the operation off until after that's happened. That was not his call to make. So there certainly is an argument there that some of the time pressure is coming from this fact. And of course, it's an argument he can't stand up and make in the House of Commons.

00:25:59:04 - 00:26:20:20

The prime minister can't stand up and say, well, I have to do what President Biden said. So you can't make that argument credibly as a UK prime minister. But obviously that's part of what's going on here. One of the things that struck me though, is the I mean, the talks on the street in Westminster knew that Britain was going to be joining a US led intervention against the Houthis several days before you and you had to pick up a newspaper or maybe stories about it.

00:26:20:20 - 00:26:40:05

And Parliament was sitting. Why couldn't Parliament have been asked when it was sitting this is a really important question. And actually this is exactly what happened in 2018 as well. The last time the UK took military action overseas, Prime Minister Theresa may ordered airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria, and the approach was exactly the same as what Prime Minister Cenac has done this time around.

00:26:40:05 - 00:26:59:11

The strikes took place. Parliament was informed of the fact in fact some of the lines that the Prime Minister used in the debate on Monday were identical to lines that Prime Minister May used six years ago over Syria. The fact that the US and UK we're going to take military action against the Assad regime was widely known in advance of it happening.

00:26:59:11 - 00:27:16:17

President Trump was tweeting about it a week beforehand. Nevertheless, the claim the Prime Minister may made to the House of Commons was exactly the same claim that Prime Minister Cenac has made. Now we had to act quickly. We didn't have enough time to recall the House of Commons. We couldn't afford to warn the enemy of what we were going to do in advance.

00:27:16:19 - 00:27:34:05

So in both cases the claim is not really true. It's not really true that it was not possible to recall the House of Commons. The truth is it was operationally inconvenient to recall the House of Commons. The truth is, after Syria there is a concern not to be burned again, not to get blocked by the House of Commons.

00:27:34:07 - 00:28:11:04

You call a vote. The possibility is always there that you lose. About what the opposition will do in such a circumstance is never entirely certain as indeed David Cameron found in 2013. Why take the risk if you think you don't have to? Looking back at the 2013 vote where intervention in Syria was blocked, what struck me that was the sheer weirdness of a British prime minister going to the House of Commons and saying It is my judgement that it is necessary that we intervene militarily because of the conduct of the Assad regime and bombing civilians and the atrocities that are taking place and children being gassed and all the other horrors that were going on

00:28:11:04 - 00:28:39:01

there and the House of Commons saying nope. And then that Prime Minister picking himself up, dusting himself down and carrying on as if it committed a minor social faux pas and almost ignoring the fact they've been defeated on a very fundamental decision. It was quite odd how that didn't stick. One of the things I've always found interesting about the 2013 vote is obviously this takes place during the lifetime of the Fixed on Parliaments Act, a period during which the traditional rules on confidence were suspended.

00:28:39:03 - 00:28:56:02

I would argue losing an explicit vote on military action in the House of Commons. That's that's at least implicitly a confidence vote. Tony Blair in 2003 signalled very clearly that he considered the vote on Iraq to be a vote of confidence, at least in his own role as prime minister, if not necessarily in the government as a whole.

00:28:56:04 - 00:29:14:11

And before David Cameron, the last prime minister who lost an explicit vote on military action, was Lord North in 1782 and although distant precedent indeed, and it took a little while, but it did end his premiership. So it's true, it was a bit of a surprise that he was able to walk away from it. It is partly about the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

00:29:14:16 - 00:29:32:08

It's partly about the weirdness of the decision as well, and I think a recognition on all sides that the outcome was not really what anybody had expected or intended. One of the things that's often forgotten about the vote in 2013 is the Prime Minister didn't ask the House of Commons to endorse military action. That was his original plan.

00:29:32:11 - 00:29:58:10

That was what was briefed the media. But when it became clear that the Labour Party was not necessarily ready to vote for military action right away, not without at least one more attempt to get a Security Council resolution. At least the government watered down what it asked for. The actual proposition on the table in 2013 was to endorse the theory of military action, but not actually to do anything until after at least one more parliamentary debate and vote.

00:29:58:12 - 00:30:13:24

And part of the issue there is it was a fairly silly proposition. A lot of people didn't believe that this was what the policy was because the House had been recalled at the end of August and people said, you've recalled the House of Commons at the end of August to ask us to approve hypothetically having another debate in future about maybe doing military action.

00:30:14:01 - 00:30:30:06

Well, well, no, because you will then just turn around and use us and you won't follow through with what you've what you've said. So 2013 was a fiasco all round and particularly embarrassing for the government. But as you say, they were able to get up and walk away from it. And that also says something about the personality of the then Prime minister as well, I think.

00:30:30:08 - 00:30:51:00

He's now a foreign secretary who is now the foreign secretary. What did you take from the debate this week when Rishi Sunak made his statement on the several days after, after the action? Because one of the issues is, you know, prime minister's sons can get away with this not getting advance agreement from the Commons if politically they think the opposition's on board.

00:30:51:00 - 00:31:12:03

They had Keir Starmer into a private briefing. I think the Speaker of the House of Commons was recalled from a from a reception in the Commons. I think you were there. Yeah, for the media. He was called over to the Cabinet Office for a private briefing. You know, they politically they think they can manage it within the troops and within the commons.

00:31:12:05 - 00:31:33:00

What did you take from from Monday's debate in terms of where where opinion was in the House? Well, the logic of the UK constitution, the political and codified constitution, is that the government can do things and then see if it gets away with them after the fact. Does the House of Commons punish it for doing certain things? This is what Theresa may did in 2018.

00:31:33:00 - 00:31:52:10

This is what Rishi Sunak has done in 2024. And in both cases it was pretty clear in the debate that had there been a prior vote, the government would have had a comfortable majority. I'm sure having briefcase drama beforehand and established that he would support military action of this nature. I'm sure that was reassuring from the Prime Minister's perspective.

00:31:52:12 - 00:32:14:07

I've always argued that the thing about these kind of prior votes is there's only really two possibilities. Either there is a majority in support or there isn't. If there is a majority in support, why not call the vote? There's a number of advantages which perhaps will get it. Well, absolutely. I mean, one of the things about having a vote, as Tony Blair found over Iraq is that it does immensely strengthen your hand if things get difficult.

00:32:14:09 - 00:32:35:09

And Iraq certainly did that. So once you got parliamentary approval, that is a very helpful card to be able to play when the going gets tough. And it might in the Red Sea. This is not going to be, I suspect, a one off event. It may be the British ships are involved in patrolling the Red Sea for some months or even years to come.

00:32:35:09 - 00:32:57:05

It may be that British aircraft are dropping bombs on Houthi targets for some years to come. And it's probably worth adding that the Houthi rebels are backed by the Iranians. It's sort and of course, then, you know, the Saudis have spent considerable amount of time and effort in recent years trying to basically bomb it into submission and haven't been able to.

00:32:57:09 - 00:33:17:03

So, yeah, it is entirely possible that this could become much more difficult. This is always the complaint that comes up in these kind of situations that what if it escalates? So the major military deployment since 2003 that wasn't subject to a prior parliamentary vote was the extension of the UK's military action in Afghanistan into Helmand province in 2006.

00:33:17:05 - 00:33:38:15

There was no vote because it was an ongoing conflict. The troops were already there, but that turned into the UK's most significant military deployment since the Korean War. Unlike Iraq, there was no prior parliamentary scrutiny of that decision. There was no prior vote. So it is a fair criticism. What if it escalates? I think it depends on what the nature of the escalation would be.

00:33:38:20 - 00:34:00:21

So in the debate on Monday, Rishi Sunak said this was a one off limited operation. If we were talking about a sustained campaign, if we were talking about ground troops, of course I would have followed precedent and I would have come to the House of Commons for approval beforehand. And so that aspect of the convention is something that Sunak's reiterated and said, yes, absolutely, I would have would go along with that.

00:34:00:23 - 00:34:25:03

But it's also true, one of the things you get when you have a vote like this is you get the ability to say, I have the support of the House of Commons and in particular, if you get the opposition on board, you also neutralise it as a long term political issue. 2005 election it was clear that the Iraq war had not played out the way it was supposed to, but the Conservative Party was not in a position to make any electoral hay out of it because they were on the record as voting for it.

00:34:25:04 - 00:34:48:10

Again, we are. We are in an election year. Probably Rishi Sunak had the opportunity facing his first and potentially only use of military force to get the opposition on the record as supporting it and thereby to neutralise it as a potential future election issue. There's even a strategic advantage because again, everybody knows it's an election year. The Americans can read opinion polls just as well as we can.

00:34:48:12 - 00:35:10:20

And there are advantages in saying to your allies and your enemies, even a change of government is not going to change the policy. This is how serious we are. You can wait out until the next general election. You can expect that that will result in a change of party in power, but it won't change the policy because look, here is Sir Keir Starmer, full throated, supporting exactly the same policy that we're taking today.

00:35:10:21 - 00:35:32:22

So there are there are these advantages from calling a vote political advantages, strategic advantages. This is one of those classic bits of the British constitution that's incredibly fluid and people to some extent make up the rules as they go along. Is there a case for some kind of formalised War Powers Act in the UK? Certainly this is something people were talking about in the backwash of the Iraq war.

00:35:32:22 - 00:35:52:03

In the Afghanistan intervention. Is it something that could be done or would any government in power actually think it would rather not hobble itself with some formal set of rules that might become inconvenient? I think it's highly significant that the Brown government and the Cameron governments have both promised legislation to enshrine Parliament's role in military deployments in law.

00:35:52:05 - 00:36:20:04

The Liberal Democrats MP Richard Ford introduced a private member's bill on Tuesday, a war powers bill, to do exactly that which had its first reading on Tuesday. It's been tried previously in the House of Lords as well. There's been various inquiries by select committees, most recently by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in 2018. Lots of countries have codified rules around Parliament's role in military deployments.

00:36:20:06 - 00:36:38:20

What that looks like varies widely. There are some countries where the Constitution states clearly that parliament has no role. Then at the other end of the extreme, you have Germany, where the military belongs to the parliament, and the parliament has to approve any overseas deployment of any number of troops for any reason. So ten soldiers going on a training mission to Latvia.

00:36:39:01 - 00:37:00:18

You have to have a vote in the Bundestag. The UK is more towards the executive power end of the spectrum, but it does have this this option of calling votes where there is a strong political reason for doing so. Well, you've given us the precedence. You've given us the international equivalents. What do you think? I think that you could do it.

00:37:00:20 - 00:37:26:20

You could write a War Powers Act that have enough exceptions for emergencies, for national security, for special forces, intelligence, drones, all of these things that you may not practically be able to bring before parliament where actually most parliamentarians would agree you don't want to prevent the government from. We have to do these things. My concern is that if you start codifying one bit of the Constitution without doing the rest of it, you wind up with unintended consequences.

00:37:26:21 - 00:37:50:19

This is exactly what happened with the fixed term Parliament Act. It was perfectly sensible on its own terms. The things it was supposed to apply to directly. No issues, but it had knock on effects that weren't anticipated at the time. And I think you get into exactly the same situation with the war powers Act. You open up military action to discussion through the courts and you make yourself a hostage force and you just never know what might come along.

00:37:51:00 - 00:38:06:08

That wouldn't have been thought of at the time of drafting that will cause you problems that you didn't anticipate. So, yes, it's perfectly possible you could do it. I wouldn't. And I think it comes back to the same thing, which is if the House of Commons really wants to have a vote on military action, it will have a vote on military action.

00:38:06:08 - 00:38:33:12

We'll find a way. Yeah. And presumably, as as Labour said, anything about its position in terms of its next manifesto, or is it just silent on this? Well, Keir Starmer in 2020 committed to a war powers bill just as they Cameron did, just as Gordon Brown did. He has rolled back from this position and essentially what he's said now is that he will follow the convention effectively as it has been followed by Prime ministers may and soon like.

00:38:33:14 - 00:39:03:10

Major deployments, particularly deployments of ground troops over an extended period of time would be subject to a prior parliamentary vote. But that would be done at the discretion of the government and something small, something worn off, something in an emergency situation, something involving special forces that would not necessarily be put in front of the House of Commons. So I would expect the status quo to continue, and I'm not terribly surprised by that because, as I say, this is what happens when people actually get into power and start thinking through what would it actually mean.

00:39:03:12 - 00:39:23:20

And again, if you believe that the House of Commons should be consulted, then you can consult it. David Cameron clearly did believe that the House of Commons should be consulted and did consulted. Theresa may and Rishi Sunak are a bit more reluctant, a bit more of a traditionally Tory view of the Constitution, that the executive should have freedom to act and then explain itself afterwards.

00:39:23:22 - 00:39:42:01

Perfectly legitimate theory of the Constitution. So again, I don't I don't actually see what you get by adding an act. And I said the same thing to the committee in 2018 as well. I don't see what it really changes because either you're willing to have a vote or you're not. Either the House really wants to have a vote or it doesn't.

00:39:42:03 - 00:39:51:10

Not exactly a shock. Headline is the government doesn't wish to tie its own hands. James Strong, thanks very much for joining us on the poll. Thank you for having me.

00:39:51:12 - 00:40:10:04

If you're enjoying the pot and think like Mark and I do, that parliament matters. Why not join the Hansard Society? This year we celebrate our 80th anniversary, and throughout the year we'll have a number of special events to mark this important milestone for as little as a cup of coffee each month. You can join us and follow in the footsteps of our first members, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee.

00:40:10:06 - 00:40:42:24

And if you're enjoying the issues that we're talking about on the pot, you'll also be getting our special members only Dispatch box newsletter each week where we bring together the best news and stories about parliaments here in the UK and around the world. You can join by going to Now we here to talk to Ian Dunt, a shrewd observer of the Westminster scene, a journalist who's been looking at the way Parliament operates, whose developed quite a critique about it, and he's put it in a book called How Westminster Works and Why It Doesn't.

00:40:42:24 - 00:41:06:08

You can find it in most major bookshops, along with a row of fairly similar books, diagnose, causing the faults of our system of parliament and government at the moment. And welcome to the pod. You've been pretty devastating about the nature and performance of our parliamentary system. Yeah, well, you can see it in the results, which is just shoddy legislation delivered to us by suboptimal personalities and insufficiently scrutinised by failing Parliament.

00:41:06:08 - 00:41:24:24

And when you get to the heart of that, what you're really looking at is it's toxic masculinity and constitutional form and that starts not in Parliament but with the electoral system. So look at how first past the post operates, right? You have one party gets 31% in a constituency, another party gets 30%. And what do we say? You win.

00:41:25:01 - 00:41:43:05

You win because you got 1% more. No need for representation for any of the other voters. Just this person wins. Essentially the way that an eight year old child behaves in a playground. Then you transpose that to a massive great, big majority in the commons, and with that a government goes, Well, we won. So we can just do whatever we want.

00:41:43:05 - 00:42:13:03

Now, we don't have to listen to our critics. We don't have to listen to experts. We don't have to listen to sceptics. We don't have to take any of those ideas on board. We would just force our way through. So that attitude, that kind of lack of interest in any criticism or scrutiny of what you do is part of the reason that we get shoddy outcomes in real life is part of the reason that you see Annies in the state that they are the transport system in the state, that it is, it is poor really write down in its DNA as part of a function of our way of conducting business.

00:42:13:05 - 00:42:35:02

You've highlighted two positives in the system. Select committees in the House of Lords now, particularly on, for example, the House of Lords. That's not necessarily an area that many people look at as a positive, but It is it is good on the legislative scrutiny. So I said, can you explain why you think that is actually a bit of a beacon in Parliament and why it's therefore not for you?

00:42:35:02 - 00:42:53:09

The biggest area for reform? It would be right at the bottom of my list of things to reform. And you can tell that by just looking at the results right now. Look, between 2016 and 2017, with 2270 successful amendments in the Lords, and those weren't even by rebels. Most of those, the vast majority came from the Government fixing its own legislation.

00:42:53:09 - 00:43:15:05

In response to criticisms, a kind of actually listening to critics. So how come this is the one place where that is happening? It's happening because, a the House of Lords controls its own timetable, unlike the Commons, which is essentially being suffocated by the Executive, which really doesn't exist as an independent legislature, the House of Lords decides how long it is going to look at something and the kind of bone crunching detail that it likes to do it.

00:43:15:09 - 00:43:37:14

And secondly, and this is the really important part there's no government majority in there. And what happens when there's no government majority, you can't just force your way through. You have to convince people of your position. So what do we see? We see a cultural change in the Lords. One of the things that Lords won't put up with, even when they're a member of party, is just coming in and shouting out these kind of party political platitude.

00:43:37:14 - 00:43:53:03

And this nonsense, they will tut, they will moan, they will basically make it very clear that you need to shut up now and come up with a constructive argument. And that is symptomatic of the fact that the culture reflects the institution. You get rid of the government majority, you get rid of the fact that the government controls the timetable.

00:43:53:05 - 00:44:17:11

You start getting some actual quality legislation, some quality lawmakers doing their job. You see a different culture on the Select committee corridor in the Commons. It's more constructive, it's more consensual. What's your thoughts on on select committees again, but the other area you highlight is positive. Yeah. So these are the two areas where you see effective scrutiny and actually some degree of expertise.

00:44:17:11 - 00:44:34:00

And again, it is you build the institution and the culture reflects it. So what do we see from select committees? The standing committees, they sit there day in, day out, week in, week out, month and month out. So you develop expertise. It's one of the few areas where employees actually start to understand the subject matter that they're looking at.

00:44:34:02 - 00:44:56:18

We do not have it set by the whips, actually. And please decide who sits on those committees. They have a lot of staff. They have outside expertise that comes in to inform them. And really importantly, and this is something that we don't talk about very much, the Chair is there to seek consensus then not behaving as we get from the Speaker in the Commons where they're just an impartial referee or this guy, this guy who goes, I'm just here to keep order.

00:44:56:22 - 00:45:20:19

They are trying to find consensus in a position. Now you build that kind of institution and suddenly really interesting things happen. We know from when we've done questionnaires with MPs that those who least like conflict, who most want to work with, others, who most seek for compromise, are more likely to be attracted to select committees. And once they're on the select committee, they're more likely to vote against their own whip to actually start thinking independently for themselves about legislation.

00:45:20:23 - 00:45:42:13

So again, with both cases, when you set the incentives right within an institution, you start to get better results. I'm fascinated by this point because a lot of people point to the kind of people who are selected by the parties in the first place. On a recent edition of This Pot, we have Michael Crick, who's been monitoring parliamentary selections by the different parties, talking about the kind of people who are now being chosen.

00:45:42:19 - 00:46:04:05

And they're overwhelmingly local champions and sort of board certified loyalists who will do what their party tells them. Now, you can put people like that into a parliamentary system, however perfectly designed and beautifully balanced it might seem on paper, but it doesn't work unless they're prepared to stand up to the very institutions that have just selected them. I agree with that entirely.

00:46:04:10 - 00:46:24:02

The selection process basically rewards partisans because WHO section are and I'm not talking about the election, talking about before the election when you're selecting for who the candidates going to be for each party, they are chosen by partisans either in the selection committee within the local party or by the local party members, and they pick people who are basically like them.

00:46:24:04 - 00:46:46:13

These are people who want to go out on a rainy Sunday afternoon and deliver leaflets through people's doors. Nothing wrong with that. Someone has to do it. But that is not the best criteria, I think, for deciding on who your legislators are. And yet those are the kind of people that they go for. I asked every MP when I wrote that book, every single one of them, did anyone at any point in the selection process ask you about how you were going to scrutinise legislation, which is, after all, at least 50% of your constitutional role?

00:46:46:17 - 00:47:06:04

And not one of them said that they've been asked a question over just because you've got a very poor system for doing this doesn't mean that you won't get some impressive people in there. And I think once you get some impressive people in Parliament and there are always some impressive people somewhere around in Parliament, even if it usually is a minority, they will gravitate, I think, towards those areas where they can provide most value.

00:47:06:04 - 00:47:28:02

And select committees are one of those areas. Have you ever considered running yourself then? No. Wouldn't do that. I believe in journalism. I'm actually quite aghast by this new culture we've developed of journalists going into politics and then from politics back into journalism again, being a journalist is a really privileged and incredibly important constitutional position, and it's not something that you mix up with politics itself.

00:47:28:04 - 00:47:49:05

I find it a bit irritating just how quickly that door has begun to revolve. I'm trying to imagine here a fantasy selection process, if you like, in which the local party committee of whichever party it is is interviewing a candidate. And the questions are all about how would you scrutinise legislation? Which select committee do you want to be on?

00:47:49:07 - 00:48:07:14

I find it pretty hard to imagine that this is going to happen. Yeah, which is why they shouldn't be able to pick these people in the first place. Just have it for open primaries. We've experimented with this before. In fact, when we experimented with it, David Cameron was in charge of that experiment. We got really impressive results. We got people like Sarah, what I would assume was a Tory MP.

00:48:07:14 - 00:48:26:14

Very, very impressive background expertise from her previous career. We look to work cross-party. We didn't get huge numbers of people voting. I think, if I remember correctly, was in the sort of upper 20% of the people in the constituency to Parliament, but it's a hell of a lot more people than you get in a selection process in the local party and it fundamentally changes the dynamics.

00:48:26:19 - 00:48:47:13

I don't think it would fix everything, but it would vastly improve it from where we are right now. I'm just thinking from the point of view of a party manager. A Conservative party manager might recall that Sarah Wilson ended up in the Liberal. Democrats think another graduate of the primary system, Dr. Philip Lee. So maybe from the party point of view, you're diluting the ideological purity of your members.

00:48:47:17 - 00:49:08:05

I think there's very little that I would propose that the parties would like. You know, the funny thing is when we talk about parliament, we spend a lot of time thinking this is it's about the government versus parliament. It's about government versus the commons. The really big dynamic is that it's about the government frontbench and the Opposition frontbench against their own backbenchers.

00:49:08:06 - 00:49:29:23

That's where lots of the control is. It's there when you look at the usual channels, it's there when you look at timetabling, the selection of amendments over and over again. I think the party system itself has become really quite over powerful and pernicious in the Commons. So if we look at the polls and if they're any way right, it looks more likely that Keir Starmer will be Prime Minister after the next election rather than Rishi Sunak.

00:49:30:00 - 00:49:53:04

But if the argument is that there's a sort of almost a conspiracy between the two frontbenchers here to maintain the system, how do we change it so the incentive structure is wrong? How do we persuade an incoming government to change the way that the Commons works? What we find over and over again is that when a new party comes into power, there's about a two year period where you can push them into reform.

00:49:53:07 - 00:50:11:03

So we saw it with the creation of the select committees in 1979. We saw it with reform of the House of Lords from Labour when it got into power and actually several other reforms under Blair. We saw it from the creation of the Office of Budget Responsibility in 2010 when the Coalition got into power and actually the implementation of the right committee reforms.

00:50:11:05 - 00:50:29:13

So, you know, over and over again, that's your sweet spot those two years. Why? Because they've had, say, all sorts of idealistic things in opposition that you can force them to do before they start to just acclimatise to the extent of executive power that they are handed by the system. That's when you get them. It's all about putting it in a narrative that I think they understand.

00:50:29:14 - 00:50:51:09

I think for Labour that is the fact that a, this stuff doesn't cost any money. So you may find it very attractive given the restrictions upon you, that when you look at misbehaviour by employees, when you look at issues of competence, when you look at delivery by government, lots of these issues come down to fundamentally constitutional questions as to how good is the quality of the legislation that you're passing and do you have the organisational competence to deliver it.

00:50:51:13 - 00:51:07:07

So on that basis, I think we can get constitutional reform to a pretty radical extent through a Keir Starmer administration. I think those who care about these things should be putting some thought into convincing him on that front. Well, we've had the diagnosis, we've had a bit of the prognosis, but how much of this do you think you're going to get?

00:51:07:08 - 00:51:25:19

What do you think would be a good outcome for the next parliament in terms of changing the way that parliament works? For me, the test is the timetable. It's the Commons taking back control of its timetable, which is not hard. You don't have to go back many years and David Cameron was promising to do that, to set up a business committee that would do it as part of the right committee reforms.

00:51:26:00 - 00:51:43:02

They promised it, they promised it. They quietly shuffled it away and no one thought about it again. Now that temptation will be there this time. You know, I mean, obviously, I would obviously rather something like electoral reform, but I'm not an idiot. And I can hear Keir Starmer talking. And it's very, very clear that that is just not something that is going to happen in terms of a package of reforms.

00:51:43:07 - 00:52:06:24

The most radical that I think we're likely to get in this first two years would be something like that. So that would be my litmus test for something being really quite muscular and the extent of the changes being proposed. Do I think it's likely? No. Do I think it's possible? Yes. But if the core problem that you've identified is the electoral system, and that's the root of so many of the failings of the House of Commons, if that's not changed, then it's pretty much business as usual, isn't it?

00:52:07:02 - 00:52:27:13

No, but everything else is modest in comparison. But it doesn't mean it's pointless. You know, we still do good things, even though we can't have the greatest thing. That's what politics is about. And you make progress where you can. The reality about electoral reform, which to me is the most important constitutional change you can make, is that it will not happen until there is a Labour Liberal Democrat Coalition.

00:52:27:13 - 00:52:46:18

And I don't know when that will be fruit. I know that could be in October of this year. I think that's very unlikely. I think it's much more likely that it could be in five years, it could be in ten years. But I think for electoral reformers it's about sharpening your arguments, thinking about how you do that campaign for when that eventuality takes place, because that really is the precondition of that kind of thing happening in done.

00:52:46:19 - 00:53:21:03

Thanks very much for joining us on the pod. Thank you. So, Mark, before we go, we have some sad news this week with the announcement of the death of Tony Lloyd. Labour MP, long serving member of Parliament, former minister left hospital last week, it was pretty clear that he was not going to have much longer to live. And the House got the news that that he died this week and there were some incredible statements from members across the House talking about his integrity, his sense of honour, in the sense of he was the sort of moral centre of the House of Commons.

00:53:21:05 - 00:53:50:08

He's interesting. If you were a parliamentary candidate at the moment thinking about what kind of parliamentary career you might want to have, you could do an awful lot worse. The model yourself on Tony Lloyd. Yeah, he was someone who an awful lot of people liked. It's quite interesting. He was at one point Labour's shadow Northern Ireland secretary and one of the things that happens to a lot of politicians very quickly in those kind of posts is that they get a kind of critical mass of losing because of some position they've taken on Northern Ireland.

00:53:50:10 - 00:54:24:19

It's almost impossible to say anything about Northern Ireland without upsetting somebody. But Tony Lloyd remained respected and popular with all sides pretty much in Northern Ireland. He didn't seem to quite fall into that trap and he was also, it should be remembered, chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. He got that job in, I think, 2005 when his predecessor and Cluett, another very veteran Labour MP, had out of favour with a lot of our colleagues, as you've seen, as too close to Tony Blair, particularly on the issue of the Iraq war.

00:54:24:21 - 00:54:49:01

Tony Lloyd took over and again, you know, conducted himself in a way that meant fairly well respected, even though there was an awful lot of partisan politics between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair going on in the background there. It didn't seem to attract the same level of animus as a lot of other players in that did. Yeah, absolutely.

00:54:49:03 - 00:55:07:02

Well, that's all from us for this week's episode of Parliament Matters. Please hit the follow or subscribe button in your podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it lands and help us to make the podcast better by leaving a rating review on Apple or Spotify and sharing your feedback on Producer tells us it's important for the algorithm to give the show a boost.

00:55:07:04 - 00:55:25:17

And Mark, tell us more about the algorithm. Do I know about algorithms? I write my scripts with a quill pen on the vellum and then send it in by carrier pigeon. Well, before we go, a quick reminder also that you can send us your questions on all things Parliament by visiting

00:55:25:19 - 00:55:55:10

We'll be discussing them in future episodes, including our special Urgent Questions editions dedicated to what you want to know about Parliament. And you can find us across social media at Hansard Society to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansol Society. Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

00:55:55:12 - 00:56:07:01

For more information, visit or find us on social media @Hansard Society.

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