Is the Conservative Party falling apart? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 34 transcript

10 May 2024
©Flickr / Keir Starmer
©Flickr / Keir Starmer

With no immediate general election in sight what can be achieved in Westminster before MPs finally make their rendezvous with the voters? And do the opportunities created by the defection of Natalie Elphicke MP outweigh the friction created by welcoming such a controversial new MP to Labour’s ranks? We talk to Professor Tim Bale about defeat, defections and the internal dynamics of the Conservative Party.

And as Wayne David MP’s Private Members’ Bill to tackle SLAPPS – strategic lawsuits against political participation - grinds its way through Parliament we catch up on the Committee debate this week which saw MPs grappling with the fine technical detail of how to balance the right to sue for defamation with the right to enjoy free speech and not to be oppressed by legal bullying tactics.

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 please first check against the audio version. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph for ease of reference.

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:15:22 You're listening to Parliament Matters Hansard Society production, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at 00:00:15:24 - 00:00:46:12 Welcome to Parliament Matters, the podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy, Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox and I'm Mark D’Arcy. Coming up, are we now in zombie Parliament territory? With no immediate election in sight, what can be achieved in Westminster before MPs finally make their rendezvous with the voters? Tim Bale, expert on the politics of the Conservative Party, stops by to talk defeat, defections and the forthcoming leadership smackdown after the election. 00:00:46:14 - 00:00:59:15 And why Conservative MPs who want to scrap postal voting will be shooting themselves and their party in the foot. 00:00:59:17 - 00:01:16:23 But before we kick off, Mark, I should just say to listeners, if you notice a slight dip in audio quality for the first time since we started the podcast, we're not all in the same place. So our producer is in Ireland. Mark, I think you're in a home in Sussex and I'm at home in Hertfordshire, so we're doing this remotely. So the quality 00:01:16:23 - 00:01:33:05 may not be quite what it normally is, but it's quite a good test for an emergency pod, should we have to have one, particularly as and when the general election is called. Well, we'd be ready for when the balloon goes up, but for this reason I suppose we've got to talk about it. The fallout is being considered all over Westminster as we speak. 00:01:33:06 - 00:02:03:04 The local elections last week rather underlined the state of the polls and the parlous state of the Conservative Party. And there's doubtless trouble ahead. But it leaves Parliament itself in a rather awkward place, with a demoralized governing party kind of sloshing about, looking for a way out, perhaps with its MPs preferring to spend an awful lot more time in their constituencies trying to save their electoral skins, or indeed, perhaps with some of those MPs just bailing out just today. 00:02:03:09 - 00:02:31:23 Nadhim Zahawi, the former chancellor, Conservative cabinet minister, has decided that he was going to not contest his Stratford upon Avon seat at the next elections. And that's another senior former minister quitting the Westminster scene. So there's a distinct air of doom, gloom, clouds on the horizon about the Conservative Party at the moment, clouds on the horizon, clouds right over them with the rain pouring down upon them, possibly hail and thunder and lightning as well. 00:02:32:00 - 00:03:10:18 Yeah. I mean, they were pretty miserable results for the party, their worst in certainly sort of for decades. And the big problem, I think taking this back to Parliament, we're not going to get into the money shy of the local election results are the podcasts are available for that. but, you know, thinking about the implications for Parliament here, a Conservative MP, you know, you're going to be very concerned about the fact that you've lost your little platoons of organizers, of leaflets of canvassers who you were on the council, in your local area, local helpers, and how many of them are going to be willing to put in the amount of time that's necessary 00:03:10:20 - 00:03:27:19 to fight your seat, securing a marginal. And there are an awful lot of marginals now. So the Conservative MP securing a seat with a majority of 10,000 or less on these results got to be worried. Certainly. Yeah. I mean, even if you're on majorities of sort of 15,000 plus, I think on these results, you're going to be very, very worried indeed. 00:03:27:19 - 00:03:48:20 I had a bit of a flashback actually to the late Major. Yes. So I think it was district council elections in something like 1996 where I found myself on radio five live talking about the results in my old patch of the East Midlands. And I, in a flash of inspiration, declare to the listeners that the Tory grass roots have been ripped up, set on fire and doused in paraquat. 00:03:48:22 - 00:04:09:22 And that, I think, is pretty much what's happened. Again, you've got to remember that your local councilors are usually at the center of leaflet delivery networks and the whole sort of political action that sustains a political party in power in a particular local area. And if those local councilors have lost their seats and are feeling pretty bruised, they might not be bouncing out on the doorstep to spread the message the following morning. 00:04:09:22 - 00:04:34:11 It might take a bit of coaxing if they can be got back at all into political action. Yeah, and also if you've lost your councilors, then your contacts on the council itself are not there to help you with resolving some constituency problems. You know, constituents, you've got difficulties with local bureaucracy, you've just got fewer people to assist you as an MP in resolving those kinds of local problems. 00:04:34:17 - 00:04:56:03 And if you're councils under new management, of course, they may not be as sympathetic to your blandishments as an MP to go out and help someone. As a previous Conservative run council had been. So there are all sorts of reasons why these results are extraordinarily bad news for the Conservative Party. And the other point is that the voters may also have taken a few messages out of these results as well. 00:04:56:05 - 00:05:24:11 It's not just a matter of the MP studying the voters may have discovered from these results who the main challenger in a particular constituency is. I don't have figures to back this up, but my impression of the results last week is that they suggested quite a big tactical anti-Conservative vote. And if one of Labour and the Liberal Democrats or even the Greens has established themselves as the one that won the most councilors in a particular area, they're the ones who may benefit from that tactical vote. 00:05:24:13 - 00:05:51:16 So that's another danger that Conservative MPs now have to worry about. Yeah. The other thing that struck me about the results, and we fight this last week on the podcast and something to look at was that, like much of the media focus has been on the performance of reform, on the this outstanding question of what Nigel Farage will do, but actually because they were running in many seats, but only about 1 in 6 candidates in the local election for the council. 00:05:51:18 - 00:06:13:17 Actually, the performance of the Green Party and the performance of independent, you know, growing number of independent candidates across the country, across England and Wales, certainly. That seemed to me to be underreported. But there's a big stretch for the Green Party to turn that translate that into parliamentary seats because of the way in which that vote is spread. 00:06:13:17 - 00:06:35:00 They're not concentrated in constituencies that you can point to. Problems for Labour here that, you know, if I were in Bristol, for example, in Thangham Debonnaire’s seat, which the Green Party are targeting, and they did incredibly well in the local council election last week in city Bristol, you'd be thinking if you were Thangam that actually it's got to be at risk. 00:06:35:02 - 00:07:03:22 Yeah. You are that that's the main threat. And the emergence of these independents is quite an important factor here. I mean, looking at the performance, for example, of Ahmed Yaqoob who contested the West Midlands mayoralty and got around, I think 70,000 votes on a kind of pro Gaza platform that will be worrying to Labour, particularly since I think he's already talking about running as an independent candidate against the shadow justice secretary, Shabana mahmood, in the general election in a heavily Muslim seat. 00:07:03:24 - 00:07:28:05 That could be quite troublesome for her. You've got the performance of the independent Labour mayor up in the north eastern metro mayoralty as well, which does suggest that some Labour voters are now a bit detachable. And indeed, the Greens provide a left wing kind of bolthole for a lot of lefties, voters who are finding Keir Starmer a little bit too centrist for their tastes. 00:07:28:10 - 00:07:52:16 I noticed on Twitter that Lynne Jones, the former Labour MP, was announcing that she had signed up to the Green Party and was urging people of her cast of mind from the Labour Party. She even tweeted Jeremy Corbyn as an example, suggesting that they should do the same thing as well. So there is a kind of left flank issue for the Labour Party, how big it is, how much electoral clout this group would carry in a general election is untested. 00:07:52:18 - 00:08:16:24 But if I were Labour, I wouldn't be completely sanguine about it. Of course, these independents can be very, very different. There isn't the kind of independent party out there with a party line and a common platform, and there'll be different issues in different places. But the suggestion is that maybe there aren't enough voters out there who are tired of conventional party politics, that they quite like something else and the opportunity to vote for it, at least at local level and quite possibly at national level. 00:08:17:01 - 00:08:39:14 Yeah. And that's the thing that struck me about the results last week. And that will have implications for the general election, the media coverage. I hesitate to ask you as a former BBC man, but, I mean, it struck me partly that I think the media, and particularly the BBC, were struggling with covering elections where the counts were extended over three days. 00:08:39:16 - 00:09:00:15 So there was a lot of the rumor going around that was being reported on before even ballot boxes had been opened, never mind counted. But it just felt that again, the focus of the coverage and the commentary was so much on this sort of two horse race and the question of reform, the Reform Party and what threat they would post to the Conservative Party. 00:09:00:17 - 00:09:31:00 And there wasn't nearly enough coverage of this fragmentation of the vote. If you say a quarter of the vote essentially taken up by other parties, the smaller parties, the Lib Dems got 100 seats, the Greens got 74 across the country. Well, they won more council seats outright than the Conservatives, the Lib Dems. I think they have some reason to feel a bit aggrieved that that was more or less completely shrugged off, and everybody was discussing whether or not Nigel Farage was going to emerge from underneath Glastonbury Tor to save England in some sort of mythical fashion. 00:09:31:02 - 00:10:04:21 Reform may get quite large numbers of national votes, but in the end, it's the number of MPs who elect to the House of Commons that really counts in parliamentary politics. And Reform could get quite a lot more votes than the Lib Dems at a general election and emerge with no MPs at all. While the Lib Dems could do it with, you know, 50 odd and in some of the wildest scenarios as suggested by current polls, could even emerge as the official opposition in the House of Commons and there's a tendency to just to dismiss them when they've got actual votes and actual elections won. 00:10:04:23 - 00:10:27:17 And talk about the prospect of Nigel Farage coming over the Hill of the Greens. Similarly, I think can feel that their achievements were much under-reported. And I think that you're right to put your finger on it. The difficulty is this kind of pregnant pause between the end of polling and the emergence of the actual results. And, and if you if you remember, it didn't seemed to take forever for the London mayoral elections to finally come out. 00:10:27:19 - 00:10:49:15 And some of the police and crime commissioners were being declared on Sunday afternoon, my local one in Sussex, for example. So broadcasters had very little to talk about for quite a while and ended up resorting to speculation. And they were speculating in the complete absence of data, especially famously in talking about the London mayoralty, is Susan Hall gonna steal it? Are the Conservatives going to spring a shock? 00:10:49:17 - 00:11:05:04 And all this was was basically nothing more than Twitter rumor mongering. Nobody knew and yet it got kind of out of control. Can she do it? Oh, she's definitely doing oh they're very confident. Oh they're chipper. And this kind of swirl of insane rumor mongering. And those journalists got caught up in it when frankly, they should have known better. 00:11:05:09 - 00:11:23:13 I think that's true. You know, they the days of getting you your two sources rather than your, your, your single tweet or your your single phone call from an activist on the ground. Perhaps we need to return to that. It does feel at times that so much of it is about room and gossip rules in actual solid analysis and reporting. 00:11:23:13 - 00:11:45:12 And there is one other point about that, which I think is well worth highlighting. It's not just that there were rumors flying around. What really struck me in that period on Friday and into Saturday, when the London mayoral elections and the runoff was just how nervy Labour were, there was an awful lot of jumpiness there. A shadow Cabinet member, quite a senior one, and not disclose the name, 00:11:45:12 - 00:12:03:24 Once said to me, you should never, in terms of I’d better not repeat in a family podcast either, said you should never underestimate the Labour Party's ability to mess it up, shall we say? I think a lot of them were wondering if somehow or other, they were going to trip over their own feet at these elections, when it should have been an unmitigated triumph for them. 00:12:04:01 - 00:12:30:17 And they were looking very nervously at London, not least because of the rather bruising impact of the Uxbridge byelection, where where the ULEZ issue and the green policies of the mayor, Sadiq Khan, did cost them. They think they should win. They're incredibly nervous that somehow or other they're going to blow it. Yeah, well, I suppose it's partly the mindset of a party that has not been the natural party government has, you know, only won a few general elections over the course of the last 100 years. 00:12:30:17 - 00:13:11:08 So the mingle strategy that used to be preferred during the Labour years, you can't carry it carefully over the line. Another thing that struck me, Mark, during in the aftermath of the result was the position, the term, the Conservative MP Brendan Smith took regarding postal votes and he tweeted postal voting. It's time to scrap it. And there's clearly and during some Conservative quarters that postal voting is costing them, that there's something somehow underhand going on the postal voting is being abused in parts of the country, and that's costing them during some of their campaigns. 00:13:11:10 - 00:13:39:07 And it just struck me as a very odd position to take, because all the research that has been done missing it, not huge amounts of research, but research that's been done by team led by Caitlin Malatso, a political scientist at Nottingham University, for example, he published some research about the last general election who vote by post. It shows that it's people with time and mobility constraints that are most likely to use postal votes, which could make sense. 00:13:39:09 - 00:14:03:01 But of course, it's the elderly that and the elderly tend to skew to vote, more likely for the Conservative Party. So it just seems a very odd position to take the Conservatives get a bigger postal vote, share those votes on the on the day because of that correlation with age and with disability. And it struck me that, you know, if the Conservatives take that approach is going to shoot himself in the foot. 00:14:03:03 - 00:14:23:13 I was very struck in the aftermath of the London mayoral elections, reading, for example, the comment section in the Mail Online that there were a lot of people there saying, oh yes, this is just so Labour stealing the elections through the postal voting system, and it's not secure enough, and it's essentially cheating. And I think that was a convenient bucket to spit in. 00:14:23:13 - 00:14:41:16 Once that result came out, people were pretty angry. If they were Conservatives who thought for a moment one brief, shining moment that they were actually going to seize the London mayoralty and then have that dashed from them, they immediately turn around and look for a reason. And it's one of the most seductive things in politics to believe I've lost an election. 00:14:41:16 - 00:15:03:09 It can only be because the other side cheated, because I'm so splendidly right that it can't possibly be that the voters rejected me. And you can see all parties doing it when they lose, and bleating that somehow there was some bit of unfairness or some bit of short practice that cost them, you know, the 1945 Labour landslide, you can find Conservatives going around saying that Labour were pretending to be Mr. Churchill's party. 00:15:03:11 - 00:15:22:14 I slightly suspect the voters weren't fooled by that. And if indeed it was happening at all, and that happens at pretty much every election. The losing side casts around for an alibi, and I think it may just be as simple as that. But as you say, the postal vote is something that's grown a great deal in recent years. 00:15:22:16 - 00:15:50:16 They've become a lot easier to be given a postal vote for actually very good reasons. And it sometimes seems to me that people blame that rather than looking around for more real reasons. And it also seems to me that if there is one fault with postal voting, it's often that it happens very early before the campaign is done, and people sometimes find they've cast their votes before something happened that might have tilted them the other way, and then the dies cast, they can't do anything about it. 00:15:50:19 - 00:16:17:06 Yeah, that is an issue that the timetable changes the nature of election organization and strategy and communications and some parties and some local organizers are just better at managing that than others. But it's what they want for the Conservative Party to be attacking it. So yes, it is easier to get postal votes than it used to be, but the Conservative government has, through the Elections Act 2022, it's really toughened the rules up. 00:16:17:08 - 00:16:43:15 They're basically saying that their own legislation isn't good enough. So now you need paper. Voters need to reapply and that will refresh your signature every three years. It used to be five. You need a National Insurance number or some other form of an ID verification to get one. The days when party campaigners would sort of go along to the local care home and gather up dozens and dozens of postal voters from the local elderly and sick, and take them off to the electoral returning office. 00:16:43:17 - 00:17:00:21 Those days are largely gone because there are limits on how many you can hand in any one time, and you've got to pine for these things and so on. So it's much harder than it used to be. And yeah, it's about 20% of voters now who take a postal vote. But it seems very odd thing for the Conservatives. 00:17:00:21 - 00:17:27:03 And it just it does strike at the extent to which the rational and logical analysis is out the window. With some of them, nothing does that more effectively than a really swingeing defeat. So I think they're seeing a fairly unusual consequence of taking a hammering in an election. Well, shall we pause there for a minute? In a moment, we're going to be talking to Professor Tim Bale, one of the great academic experts on the workings of the Conservative Party. 00:17:27:05 - 00:17:48:03 And we'll be taking a look at what's going on inside now. Is there going to be a leadership contest? Is there going to be a kind of shadow leadership campaign that lasts right up to and then beyond the general election, or are the Conservatives going to want for stability? We to take a deeper dive into what's going on inside the Conservative Party now? 00:17:48:03 - 00:18:12:01 We've invited on the podcast Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London, one of the big academic experts in the secret life of the Conservative Party. And Tim, I suppose that the immediate big picture question that Ruth and I think is raised by what's going on at the moment is are we seeing something more than a party in a sort of end of government doldrums phase? 00:18:12:03 - 00:18:41:18 Aren't we perhaps seeing the historic coalition of the Conservative Party unraveling? Have we got to a point where perhaps the Conservative right is more comfortable working with Nigel Farage and the Reform Party or Brexit Party or Ukip or whatever identity you want to give them, than they are now with the kind of the Rory Stewarts and the David Gauke, some and the people who used to be on the kind of center right of the British political spectrum. 00:18:41:24 - 00:19:23:07 Is there something really fundamental changing, or is this just a normal cycle? Well, I think what we're seeing at the moment is the precursor, if you like, of the post-election Conservative Party leadership contest, a degree of individual maneuvering to ready themselves for that contest. But also to quote in a cliche, kind of battle for the soul of the Conservative Party, of which that leadership contest will be apart, I think it is true to say that the Conservative Party has actually shifted markedly since Brexit in particular, but I think that shift was already on going away from, if you like, the kind of mainstream conservatism that we have seen for decades, really towards a more 00:19:23:07 - 00:20:01:01 populist, radical right kind of conservatism, which as far as many Conservative MPs are concerned, is absolutely necessary in order to counter the threat from the various Nigel Farage vehicles that we've seen trouble the party really, since, 2010, and in particular, I guess since 2015. So I think something profound has gone on. That's not to say that there aren't any moderates left within the Conservative Party, but certainly the most vocal minority, and they probably are still a minority, is from that radical right group of the party, albeit divided into various groups or group schools. 00:20:01:01 - 00:20:29:01 Is that sometimes known? We're talking here, a minority within the parliamentary party, or are we talking about a minority within the party membership? Because the general vibe that I get is that actually the party membership are much more to the right than a lot of their MPs have been? Letters in the Daily Telegraph recently. Yeah, I think it was a former police and crime commissioner writing in saying that he thought it was time for some of these people to up sticks and go somewhere else because they weren't proper Conservatives. 00:20:29:01 - 00:20:52:14 So I think it depends what you mean by right. Really. I mean, the research we've done on members suggests that actually, when it comes to economic policy and in particular, role of the state, the Conservative Party membership are nowhere near as if you like neo liberal as some Conservative MPs. They don't necessarily favor hacking back the state in the way that some Conservative MPs might think is the key to growth. 00:20:52:17 - 00:21:13:20 Liz Truss being an obvious example, but I think it is true to say that when it comes to, if you like, cultural questions and in particular immigration, which is their big bugbear, they are some way to the kind of authoritarian right, if you like, of the MPs. And I think that does obviously put pressure on MPs. But there is a kind of feedback relationship between the two. 00:21:13:20 - 00:21:29:23 We have to remember. I mean, I think it is the case that the members have shifted actually in that direction, partly because they've been listening to the, you know, some of the MPs who push that particular agenda. And also, it has to be said, because they read the kind of newspapers who were very keen on that agenda as well. 00:21:30:01 - 00:21:50:07 So I think if they are going to go down to a kind of historic defeat, how are they going to rebuild? Is it going to be focusing on the right or the center? You've talked about these groups within the parliamentary policy, this idea of five families which sprang up in this Parliament, the sort of almost Mafioso quality thing to it. 00:21:50:12 - 00:22:09:09 Where is the rebuild going to come from? Well, it will depend in part on just how bad the defeat is, if it is a defeat, and I think most people assume that it will be one now, and that will dictate how many MPs are left in Parliament and whether it's even conceivable for the Conservative Party to come back after just one term. 00:22:09:09 - 00:22:31:03 Although, of course, they could take hope for what happened to the Labour Party after 2019 because no one gave Keir Starmer et al a chance. But connected to that, I will also depend on who's left. To be honest. Actually, some research that we did to try and model those scenarios suggests that the kind of center of gravity or balance within the Conservative Party in Parliament probably won't change that much, actually. 00:22:31:03 - 00:22:56:02 So it's not going to be full of moderates and all the red wall, big mouth's gone. I mean, some of those Red bull big mouths will be gone, but there will be plenty of kind of radical, right? Big mouth with safer constituencies who are next in there as well. I mean, the historic tendency for the party, at least if we if we deal with contemporary history, suggests that they probably will head for the ideological hills to begin with. 00:22:56:04 - 00:23:17:07 That's what happened in some ways after 1997. It depends on who they elect as leader. In 97, for example, they elected William Hague, who opted for this very kind of populist, radical, right wing direction with which he's not associated now as the venerable commentator for The Times. But back then, you know, he was portrayed in cartoons as a skinhead of people. 00:23:17:07 - 00:23:43:11 People might remember. So if they go ahead and elect someone like Kemi Badenoch, for example, I would have thought they will go for the sort of full on culture war we're leaving the European Convention on Human Rights. you know, we're doubling down even more than we already have done on the trans issue, on immigration and etc., etc. and it may take another election or two before the party, as it did in the early 2000s to wake up. 00:23:43:11 - 00:24:01:16 And as Lord Ashcroft famously put it in a very useful pamphlet and smell the coffee and realize that actually, probably they have more chance of winning an election in the in the center of British politics. And then way over to the right. I was wondering what this would all mean, though, for Parliament. This is this kind of sense of doom that's hanging over the Conservative Party. 00:24:01:16 - 00:24:25:09 I was very struck by a piece in Conservativehome recently entitled goodbye, which compared the Conservative Party now to Captain Blackadder in that World War One incarnation of Blackadder, where he was about to go over the top and basically be wiped out. And there was very elegiac tone to that piece that not only had they lost that blown it, and they're blown it big time. 00:24:25:11 - 00:24:44:19 And I'm wondering how that reverberates first through what's left of this Parliament is that is there any chance of a bit of battling within Parliament for things like tougher sentencing, for example, in forthcoming legislation or something like that as a totem for some of these arguments? And beyond it, how is that going to reshape the Conservative Party in terms of trusted leadership? 00:24:44:19 - 00:25:09:23 Because they looked at absolutely all conquering in 2019, and they've just blown it since, and maybe the troops will not in future trust the leadership in Westminster or anything like as much as they did then. Well, I'm certainly not going to tell Mark D’Arcy or Ruth Fox about whether there is enough time to get any kind of legislation through before now, in the next election, because, you too are far more aware of the constraints on any government in that respect. 00:25:10:00 - 00:25:45:00 So it's difficult to believe that actually, there is much in the kind of legislative locker that Conservative MPs could look to, or the government could look to, to revive their, their fortunes. I mean, I think there is a degree, obviously, to which many Conservative MPs have given up, but not necessarily those who are leaving Parliament. Actually many who, you know would expect to be there after the election just feel now that it's pretty hopeless and there's there's nothing much they can do but look forward, as I say, to the next leadership contest and trying to maneuver the party in the direction that they feel it needs to go on. 00:25:45:00 - 00:26:14:10 I mean, I would recommend actually a really interesting comment piece by Robert Lee in the Ft where he makes the point that in some ways, what a lot of people on the radical right seem to be doing now in the Conservative parliamentary party is just trying to make sure that Rishi Sunak gets the blame for losing the election and gets the blame for supposedly losing it as, rather, Conservative Conservative, you know, supposedly rather than lily livered on cultural issues, on immigration, high tax, etc., etc.. 00:26:14:10 - 00:26:34:21 Now, many people would actually disagree with that characterization of Rishi Sunak and this government. Nevertheless, you know, it's an approach that they feel will will serve them quite well. I mean, there is a feeling, isn't there, that why would any of the potential contenders for the leadership want to kind of seize the wheel as the ship's going down, rather than blame the captain who's already holding the wheel? 00:26:34:23 - 00:26:55:05 Yeah, I mean, the only possible turn into that, I guess, is someone like Penny Mordaunt, who many people expect might lose her seat anyway, and I guess that it would be Prime Minister even for a fairly niggardly six months, the, you know, to be booted out unceremoniously as leader of the House at the next election and then, you know, desperately try and find a seat. 00:26:55:05 - 00:27:23:19 So, you know, there is perhaps one more person who would do it. But I agree, there's no one else. And I think clearly there will be many Conservative MPs who are looking in the next leadership contest and thinking about whose coattails they are best to, to hang on to in order, you know, to get themselves some preferment. Because if they do get beaten as badly as they look, as though they're going to be beaten, then there will be quite a lot of jobs in the shadow cabinet for people who survive, whether they are, particularly kind of senior figures or not. 00:27:23:21 - 00:27:42:09 And looking at the latest polls, there may not be enough Conservative MPs to staff a shadow cabinet, but, I think those doomsday scenarios possibly a little bit far fetched. Yeah. So I must admit, I do find it difficult to believe when people talk about Conservatives going into sort of 100 seats or even less than that. I mean, it could just be my natural skepticism. 00:27:42:09 - 00:28:08:16 But it's difficult to believe that even if it's a landslide, it will be quite the disaster or the kind of Canadian wipeout scenario that many love to talk about. And this week, we've seen the extraordinary defection of the Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, to the Labour benches. You know, magnificent stage management from Labour's perspective at Prime Minister's Questions, where Conservative MPs were looking on as she came into the chamber, had no idea what was about to happen. 00:28:08:18 - 00:28:33:22 And rather than joining their side, she walked in. Labour backbenchers sat behind Keir Starmer and you could say Conservative MP. That's sort of dawning on them what had happened and they struggling to quite understand, I think, what was taking place. The reason being she's a pretty right wing Conservative MP. You know Brexiteer tough on immigration. Her constituency Dover is in the front line of the small boat issue. 00:28:33:24 - 00:28:56:19 She had some stinging words for. Rishi Sunak, said that the Conservative Party under him had become a byword for incompetence and division. The center ground had been abandoned since the 2019 election, which I think surprised some people because most people did not associate the underground with Natalie Elphicke and she talked about the party having changed out of all recognition. 00:28:56:19 - 00:29:20:14 And here she was joining like a rank picket. You make that. Well, for one thing, I'm not sure that Natalie Elphicke necessarily put together that text herself without any help. So I think, I think, you know, incompetence and divisiveness were probably inserted by, some Labour spinners. That's the message that they wanted to send. I mean, the other message it sends is Labour has changed. 00:29:20:16 - 00:29:40:07 And Keir Starmer can't emphasize that enough for many voters who are still, you know, rather worried and scarred by the Jeremy Corbyn years. And to be honest, it's not Labour's position that they want these small boats to keep coming. They don't think Rwanda is going to work. Natalie Elphicke, maybe for other reasons, didn't think Rwanda was going to work. 00:29:40:09 - 00:30:05:17 So it does send a signal quite usefully, I guess, that, you know, Labour is not a soft touch on immigration. And that's always something that Labour HQ worries about. I mean, there are obviously some people within the Labour Party who see this as as problematic and see her as particularly problematic, particularly because some of the things she said after her husband's conviction don't seem to chime very well with Labour's position on helping women and girls, you know, against violence. 00:30:05:19 - 00:30:28:10 But having said that, I would have thought for the average voter who, let's face it, doesn't pay a great deal of attention to politics and it's fairly nonpartisan. It will just, I think, reinforce the impression that this is a government, you know, going down to defeat and run by a prime minister whose authority is completely shot. And that's clearly another useful message for Labour to send. 00:30:28:14 - 00:30:52:18 I mean, there was a risk, of course, that the whole thing backfires, you know, she says, and does something that embarrasses the Labour Party or causes even more friction within Labour's ranks. But I think on balance, one can understand why Keir Starmer did it and one can understand, despite what Conservative Party MPs are saying about her now, just as they did after Dan Porter defected, they probably are rather worried and demoralized by what's happened. 00:30:52:20 - 00:31:13:00 You mentioned the migration small boats issue. I would have thought the big pay off for Labour from Natalie Elphicke switching to them is that they can say the former Conservative MP for Dover says the government's policy isn't going to work. And I would guess that Conservative strategists have been planning to make small boats and migration a pretty serious part of their appeal. 00:31:13:02 - 00:31:33:06 And Natalie Elphicke has helped defuze that. Yes. I mean, I think, I think you're absolutely right there. And I think, you know, Labour seem now to be capable of sitting around corners and thinking about how they might defend themselves against the Conservatives playbook, as it were, in the next election. And I think you're absolutely right. Small Boats was going to be something that the Conservatives were going to go hard on. 00:31:33:06 - 00:31:56:06 She now in some ways gives them a defensive shield against that. You're quite right. So I do think that that helps. and to be honest Labour although it doesn't want to talk particularly about immigration in the run up to the election, could do with a defensive shield. While it emphasizes the issues that obviously always play well for Labour, in particular the NHS and in this case, obviously the economy as well. 00:31:56:08 - 00:32:20:09 And an offensive argument is that it's it's really a bit cynical and too clever by heart. And actually they are storing up now some problems in their own right. I mean, I can't remember a distraction to a party which has been greeted with only 20,000 by the policy receiving the director. And this is somebody you mentioned, earlier that, you know, she backed her husband, Charlie Elphicke, who was the Conservative MP for Dover. 00:32:20:11 - 00:32:48:01 He was arrested and then jailed in 2020 for a couple of years for sexual assault. She said she'd been supportive of him during that show trial. She made some comments about his accusers that many women in the Labour ranks are not happy with. She was sanctioned by the House of Commons for pressuring a judge, writing and persuading several of the Conservative MPs to write to a judge in what was deemed to be an improper attempt to influence his trial. 00:32:48:03 - 00:33:12:08 You've got you have a Labour MP now for Rosie Duffield. I'm complaining in somewhat central Catholic ways, and at least one MP for Kent is talking to actually Starmer because she doesn't she's had a quite a fractious relationship with with him. Isn't there an argument really so cynical that, you know, if you thought Natalie outfit was going to defect anyway, you'd have expected her to defect to the reform. 00:33:12:10 - 00:33:33:17 It's so cynical that actually it could damage the Starmer brand. No, I mean, you know, given the charge sheet, as it were, that you've read out there. she is, to use the euphemism, not unproblematic. And obviously that will cause a lot of Labour MPs quite a lot of heartache, but mostly her MPs, I think, will see this okay. 00:33:33:18 - 00:34:08:12 As a cynical move. Okay is opportunistic. Okay is not necessarily the ideal defector, but but but the advantage is probably in the end outweigh the disadvantages. And you have to remember, just as I was talking about the Conservative Party thinking about, you know, who's going to get jobs in the next Parliament, and there will be a lot of MPs on the Labour side who are unhappy about this, but probably aren't going to talk out of turn because, you know, they want to keep on the right side of, a man who they feel anyway is likely to become prime minister by December or January. 00:34:08:18 - 00:34:27:13 I think you're right to say that, you know, there is some unhappiness and quite a lot of unhappiness among some Labour MPs, but I doubt the any but the sort of very vocal minority who are not particularly in with Keir Starmer anyway, are going to kick up that much of a fuss. I could be wrong. It could explode really, really badly, but I doubt it. 00:34:27:15 - 00:34:56:00 Well, Tim Bale, thanks very much indeed for joining us on the pod. Fascinating times ahead. Thanks very much. Thanks, Tim. 80 years ago, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, sitting together in the House of Commons smoking Room, paid a 1 pound subscription and so became the first members of the Hansard Society. The challenges facing our democracy are different to those that motivated them to help found the society in 1944, but they are just as urgent. 00:34:56:02 - 00:35:19:12 So to mark this important milestone, we're launching the Churchill Attlee Democracy Lecture, and we're delighted that former Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed to give the inaugural speech on Tuesday, 14th May. She reflect on her life in Parliament, drawing on the unparalleled insights she's gleaned during her time as Prime Minister and as a backbench MP with a wealth of experience in the corridors of Westminster. 00:35:19:14 - 00:35:42:14 Her lecture will explore what's wrong with Parliament and why and how it must change. So why not join us as we honor the legacies of our first members, Churchill and Attlee, with what promises to be a thought provoking exploration of the challenges facing Parliament in the years ahead. Go to the Hansard Society website, and book your ticket now that's 00:35:42:14 - 00:35:45:01 00:35:45:03 - 00:36:20:24 And we're back and let's have a look right now at what's coming up in Westminster and what's been going on in the background. All the pyrotechnics from those local elections and so forth. One particularly important piece of legislation that's grinding its way through Parliament, which we featured already, we talked, if listeners will remember, to Wayne David, the Labour MP who's bringing in a private member's bill, the legislation to try and deal with slapps, strategic lawsuits against public participation, the use of the law, usually by very rich people, to squash criticism or revelation of their activities. 00:36:21:01 - 00:36:47:17 This is now in its committee stage, where the fine detail is gone through by a committee of MPs, and it's actually been some quite interesting action around the bill. Yeah, I think David talked about quite remarkable and very positive series of discussions between him, the Ministry of Justice, because the government is supporting this bill and the number of stakeholders, which was echoed by all MPs who were sitting on the committee considering the bill. 00:36:47:19 - 00:37:05:21 David Davis talked about it being a difficult and technical bill. At the heart of it is this argument about how do you balance different rights, the right for somebody to sue for defamation versus the right not to essentially be bullied, and to it to enjoy your right to free speech? Where do you strike that balance? How do you do it? 00:37:05:22 - 00:37:42:00 Is that the essence of the problem? And MPs were grappling with the legal, the constitutional, the financial issues that arise from that finely balanced debate. One of the key issues that emerged during the committee was an attempt by David Davis, the Conservative backbencher who tried to introduce a new clause which would make it absolutely clear the courts were there to interpret the law as protecting free speech and would shift the balance a little bit more towards people trying to make revelations and do reporting that might not be welcomed by those who they were reporting on. 00:37:42:02 - 00:38:03:04 There was some worry that this was almost amounting to a British version of the American First Amendment constitutional guarantee of free speech, which was not a road that the government wants to go down, partly because they don't think it fits very well into British law and might also go, in their view, a bit too far in allowing people to say whatever they wanted. 00:38:03:06 - 00:38:25:17 Despite the effects on the reputations of others. So that was quite an interesting little debate around that. And Wayne David, who's bringing in this bill, is having to be very careful because he's got something that will substantially increase the protection for journalists and media if it's brought in as a law. But if it's amended so far that the government doesn't like it, his private member's bill will doubtless be killed. 00:38:25:23 - 00:38:48:01 So he's having to walk quite a difficult line between getting as much as possible of what he wants and not overdoing it to the point where the whole effort collapses. So there's quite an interesting internal debate there, with the Justice minister, Mike Freer, offering to go away with David Davis and have a conversation and see if they can work out a form of words that works for both of them. 00:38:48:03 - 00:39:07:21 But there's also a feeling that a bit of a line in the sand has been drawn by ministers now, but they're not going to be pushed too far on this issue with the thought that the campaigners who want this bill don't want to push their luck. Yeah. And David Davis said it is a subtle problem. So this could be a lot of negotiations and discussions are going to be going on behind the scenes. 00:39:07:23 - 00:39:26:22 But I've also struck for the end of the debate. I mean, there's a lot of quite big heavy hitters on that committee. Former secretaries of state like committee chairs like Liam Byrne. And I was struck by something, Liam said. He's chair of the business committee and he said it's not common to move this quickly from a backbench business debate to legislation. 00:39:26:23 - 00:39:48:04 That, of course, is where this issue first arose some years ago in a backbench business discussion. And he said that is to be commended. Indeed, it's why the backbenchers in this place should be strengthened further and given far more opportunities to legislate. So we are going to have a Labour government. That is something they're going to have to grapple with if they have a lot of backbenchers. 00:39:48:04 - 00:40:11:15 We've talked about this on a previous podcast. How do you keep them happy, engaged, productively working, feeling like they're making a contribution? Private member's bills is one of the ways in which that can happen. But there's a balance for the government to strike. Are they going to want to use private member's bill to get more of their own legislation through three government and die bills, which is pretty much what's happening at the moment. 00:40:11:15 - 00:40:35:09 Wall to wall. Are they going to want to sort of use private member's bill more, or actually because they need the parliamentary time to legislate their own government, you know, significant number of bills for a government program in the first term are actually private member's bill is going to go a bit on the back burner. But it was interesting that he was basically saying that the role of backbenchers, like legislatures, could be strengthened further. 00:40:35:09 - 00:40:59:13 Always makes me smile with a slightly cynical smile. But you have to have been a senior minister who's gone back to the backbenches before you're prepared to take that view. Those are the people who tend to find themselves saying those things. I agree, I think that the existing private member's bill process is both irrational and overwhelming. Rebel and an awful lot of useful law could be made if there was a little bit more freedom in Parliament, but there'll be plenty of people taking what few remember. 00:40:59:13 - 00:41:17:12 David Howarth came on our program a while ago, talked about the Whitehall view of what Parliament should be. Therefore, governments may not like the idea of MPs getting ideas about their station in life. So we'll wait and see whether an incoming Keir Starmer government was prepared to go that far, or whether it just wanted to use the process much as it is at the moment. 00:41:17:14 - 00:41:50:06 Yeah, quite clear. One interesting thing that came up this week is the government has laid a statutory instrument, my favorite subject, that would extend licensing hours for the day of the the semifinal and the final of the European Football Championships, which will start in a few weeks time. So football, my second favorite subject after Parliament. And basically to extend the licensing hours if the teams, England or Scotland, get through to the semifinal or the final to enable the pubs and clubs and so on to serve alcohol later. 00:41:50:08 - 00:42:15:22 If you remember, last year the government got itself into a complete mess because it didn't think ahead and didn't plan for an extension of licensing hours. When the women got through to the World Cup football final and as a consequence, they couldn't actually do anything about it because Parliament was in recess and a statutory instrument and and a form of regulation needs to be laid before Parliament debated and actively approved by both houses. 00:42:15:24 - 00:42:33:23 Calls for a parliamentary recall to pull this statutory instrument through. I seem to remember. Yeah, yeah, there were there were even calls for basically the government to give an indication that clubs and clubs should go ahead and extend the licensing hours anyway, and they wouldn't be prosecuted for it. Not a precedent, I think they fancy setting in. Yeah. 00:42:33:24 - 00:42:57:13 You know, sort of make it up as you go along. There was also a problem a few years ago where the government laid the regulation to extend licensing hours for the European 2020 final. So back four years ago, just four days before the event and it got rushed through. It's one of those interesting things. Statutory instrument. Where is the line between what MPs should have to debate and approve. 00:42:57:15 - 00:43:22:20 And you've got MPs spending a lot of time on debating things which are not particularly controversial. I mean, I doubt that very many MPs who object to this change, I think it could probably be a pretty short debate spending time debating these kinds of things and not other far more controversial issues because it is dictated by the original legislation written in this case, the Licensing Act 20 odd years ago. 00:43:22:24 - 00:43:48:13 It determines what companies required, and the government is proposing at this time that actually they should reduce the scrutiny requirements and they don't have to actively approving the debates of the regulations. But it really brings home the fact that a line that is drawn about what goes in primary legislation, what goes into secondary legislation, what has to be debated and approved by MPs when the regulations come at a later date? 00:43:48:15 - 00:44:09:00 Under that act, the line has moved, the line is shifted, and I'm all debating things that I really want for me to debate and not getting to debate the things I do want to debate. Which brings me to why we need reform of delegated legislation. And the line has shifted kind of organically, without anybody actually ever making a conscious decision to do it. 00:44:09:00 - 00:44:28:23 It's all the gradual accumulation of precedents and actions. And it's another example. I'm afraid of Parliament's inability to control its own business and set its own priorities. Instead, the priorities are set according to what happens to be convenient for the government. Yeah, but what do you like when the topic brings it back to our earlier discussion about private member's bill? 00:44:29:01 - 00:44:56:05 Because there is a private member's bill going through Parliament that would propose to change the procedure for extending licensing hours so that Parliament doesn't have to actively debate and approve them in the future, which would fix this problem of, you know, having to bring these regulations forward in anticipation of how well the national teams might do, and particularly this next question, what do you do if, if you haven't planned ahead or if Parliament's in recess and it's not sitting and you can't bring the regulations forward? 00:44:56:07 - 00:45:21:10 Well, you certainly don't want ministers getting caught on the hop and having to say, no, you can't sit there with your mates in the pub watching some vital international game that happens to take place at 2:00 in the morning in some other country. A couple of things coming up, next week in Parliament, one of our favorite subjects, which we've debated and discussed on this podcast quite a lot, they're finally getting to debate and vote on new rules for precautionary exclusion of MPs. 00:45:21:12 - 00:45:44:02 This is where a member of Parliament is accused of a serious sexual or violent offense, which raises questions about whether staff and other visitors to the parliamentary estate would be safe in their presence, and whether they should therefore be told they can't come in. A couple of issues that MPs will have to grapple with there, or at what point are these rules invoked in the process? 00:45:44:02 - 00:46:12:04 Is it at the moment an allegation emerges or is being investigated by the police, or do you have to wait until charges like and I think the position the government's taking in the regulations that they're proposing is that you have to wait for someone to actually be charged by police with a kind of a qualifying offense before this whole system of having a panel to assess whether this person is safe to be around and potentially exclude them from Parliament before that is raised. 00:46:12:06 - 00:46:31:03 And there's also, I think, an issue about whether or not they should then be entitled to a proxy vote. As we've said repeatedly on this podcast, this is very high powered stuff. This is dealing with the extent to which the elected represents citizens. The people can function in the legislature to which they've been elected if allegations are made against them. 00:46:31:05 - 00:46:50:04 So it is extremely serious stuff. And, I suspect that there may be a lot of people who are not particularly satisfied with whatever result comes out of that debate, which is due next Monday. Yeah. I mean, there are some MPs who think that the government, in taking the approach of spying, only one and MPs charged, will these proposals kick in? 00:46:50:06 - 00:47:13:03 Some some MPs think that's not good enough. I think some of the trade unions think it's not good enough that actually at the point at which MPs are arrested and are under investigation, it should kick in which it would in in other workplaces. And this is going to be an argument about that element of it. And then the question of, well, who's on this panel that's going to decide what sanctions kick in and and when. 00:47:13:05 - 00:47:43:17 So the panel will have legal advice from the counsel to the speaker. The director of parliamentary security will be involved. And basically, depending upon the nature of the of the charge, depending upon the risk assessment that's made, they can involve other members of, of the House administration as they think necessary. But as I think a discomfort among some MPs are quite powerful, they receive unelected members of the House administration making decisions about elected MPs. 00:47:43:19 - 00:48:08:13 constitutionally, that raises questions. And then, well, okay, if the panel decides that there is a risk that they do have to be excluded from, you say, what are the measures that can be taken to mitigate risk if full exclusion isn't deemed necessary? So other things that the panel would apparently be able to to recommend would be exclude MPs from domestic travel under through the House of Commons. 00:48:08:13 - 00:48:31:03 So that could be, you know, select committee trip, exclude them from foreign travel funding. So again you know, they run a select committee. They wouldn't necessarily be able to go on a, foreign trip, but with, with that committee the application for a proxy vote. So they don't have a stake to vote, that they, their constituents would still be represented in some form by enabling them to vote by proxy. 00:48:31:05 - 00:48:55:07 So there's a lot of difficult issues to grapple with, a number of amendments from both sides of the House. But there's a particular group of Conservative MPs are very exercised about this. Not very happy that that fact that the debate is limited to just a couple of hours and, feeling that the issues are so big and so constitutionally important that it deserves a bigger airing, I suspect nobody will be particularly happy on Monday. 00:48:55:13 - 00:49:26:01 It looks, in some ways quite a quiet week, with MPs sort of rubber stamping quite a number of government regulations of one sort or another. But watch out for a debate on the report on the state pension age from the Ombudsman, the Public Services and Health Service Ombudsman, which is about essentially the Waspi women, the women who've been caught by the raising of the age at which the state pension is paid because there's potentially they're an absolutely vast spending commitment that could land on the government. 00:49:26:01 - 00:49:56:14 And it's one of several instances where possibly you might see an outgoing government signing up to really big spending commitments that an incoming government will somehow have to honor. Compensation for the contaminated blood scheme is another one where the sums involved are absolutely eye watering, although the cases are also absolutely heart rending. So you could have a situation where potentially an incoming government has to find the money to pay the WASPI women, has to find the money to pay the victims of the contaminated blood scandal. 00:49:56:16 - 00:50:14:01 And, and there's less and less and less spending room for an incoming chancellor to deal with anything, because they suddenly have all these massive compensation bills to meet. Yeah. And I suppose it's one way that the, the government, the Chancellor, is thinking that it's not going to be Conservative government having to pick up the bill and deal with the consequences in the next Parliament. 00:50:14:01 - 00:50:42:18 It's a way for, for him in, in terms of legacy issues to get these issues sorted out, agree the compensation schemes and leave it to the next government to resolve how they're going to be paid. You know, so I think just something to look out for in that debate on the women's state pension age is also a broader debate about the role of the ombudsman, because there have been some criticism by parliamentary select committees, particularly the Public Administration Committee, over recent years, about the performance in dealing with issues. 00:50:42:20 - 00:51:05:16 Would be interesting just to see if any anything comes up during the debates about that as well. Definitely watch that space with the Public Administration Committee was basically set up, as it were, to kind of provide a parliamentary process for Ombudsman's reports into maladministration, the state blotting its copybook to to be considered and dealt with through Parliament. So it's specifically their role to look into these things. 00:51:05:16 - 00:51:32:03 And I think generations of chairs of that committee have become increasingly exercise of the way that the state pension age issue has just been left and ignored and batted back at them. When they think there's a clear injustice that ought to be dealt with. Yeah, we should just mention that the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee actually has as of this week a new chair in Jackie Doyle Price, the Conservative MP who's taken over from William Wragg, who we interviewed on the pod a few weeks ago. 00:51:32:03 - 00:51:51:06 But he blotted his copybook over, some personal behavior and, had to resign. So, Jackie Doyle Price is chairing the committee. She's obviously only got a few months, before the election. There'll be a number of sort of reports. The committee will want to get over the line, but she's not, what, long to make her mark that would be interesting to see what she's focusing on. 00:51:51:09 - 00:52:13:10 So just time then, Ruth, to to deal with some of the questions that listeners have been raising. We've got one from Davy Jones who was wondering about what prospect there would be for a coalition if the next election, perhaps slightly improbably, resulted in a hung parliament. So what do you think? Well, I think it looks, on the basis of local election results. 00:52:13:10 - 00:52:30:18 We were discussing earlier that it looks very unlikely, I would say, that we're going to have, Parliament, but obviously there was speculation off the back of the Sky news coverage of the vote share in the local elections gave rise to be tied to potentially could be a hung parliament. And the prime minister has been pushing this line over the last few days. 00:52:30:18 - 00:52:49:18 But it looks highly improbable. But the Conservative Party would have a problem if there was a hung parliament, because it's hard to see where their allies would come from. But, you know, any friends they got that would be willing to do any deals with them, possibly the Democratic Unionist Party, the DUP. But I mean, they're in a bit of a mess in Northern Ireland at the moment. 00:52:49:20 - 00:53:18:09 It's not clear how many seats they would have and whether those would be enough, but other than that, it's very hard to see any of the other parties really being willing to support themselves. Probably not in a coalition, a formal deal, but even in a sort of, you know, the Conservatives in a minority government position supported by some kind of confidence in supply arrangements, and it's called, you know, the party being willing to back the budget, willing to back them on the King's faith vote to confirm that they've got the confidence of the House of Commons to govern. 00:53:18:09 - 00:53:39:23 And this, of course, was the deal that Theresa May had with the Democratic Unionists and in the backwash of the 2017 general election, when she lost the Conservatives narrow majority there, and the DUP's I think it was ten MPs basically kept the Conservative Party afloat for another couple of years before Boris Johnson succeeded Theresa may and took the country into another general election and won a majority there. 00:53:40:00 - 00:54:01:18 So these things can make quite a difference to the running of things. Otherwise, a government is living hand-to-mouth, having to basically cobble together deals to support everything it's doing measure by measure, vote by vote, which can be an absolute nightmare. It means that they could lose a critical vote at almost any moment. Any government that didn't have an outright majority in its own right would want to have some kind of deal. 00:54:01:20 - 00:54:28:20 But I think actually it's quite difficult for almost anybody to make a deal with almost anybody that involved a full grown coalition these days. I mean, fresh from their triumphs in the 2010 to 2015 Parliament, I'm not sure the Liberal Democrats would touch any kind of coalition with anybody with a barge pole. They might manage to do a confidence and supply agreement of the kind that you were describing, perhaps time limited to a couple of years, but if they did so, I think they would want any concessions they got in return to be very public. 00:54:28:20 - 00:54:46:19 We squeezed this out of them in return for all support. This is the spoils of our, deal. So they actually have something visible to show for making a deal with whoever they make a deal with. The Green Party may have one MP or two MPs, or indeed no MPs, depending on how it does at the general election. 00:54:46:24 - 00:55:05:05 And may it that may or may not be enough to make them a factor in the balance of power in the House of Commons. this Parliament's thrown up the feature of quite a large number of independent MPs who usually people who've lost the whip either because they voted against the party line or resigned or fallen foul of some disciplinary procedure or others. 00:55:05:07 - 00:55:30:02 And so you could find arrangements having to be made with the sort of rank second bobtail of individuals. I think famously in the 1970s, when the Labour government under James Callaghan lost its majority, John Stonehouse, the MP who absconded and faked his own death on a beach in Florida, was actually having to come in and vote for the Labour government after having spent the day in the dock in the Old Bailey, where he was on trial for fraud. 00:55:30:04 - 00:55:52:00 So there were all sorts of people who could be pulled in to vote in all sorts of ways, but it'd be very difficult. It's also very hard to see the Scottish National Party doing deals. Labour and the Scottish National Party are pretty bitter political enemies, competing for much the same set of votes in Scotland. And then make pretty uncomfortable bedfellows in even a confidence and supply deal, still less in an actual coalition. 00:55:52:02 - 00:56:10:07 So again and again, you come up with this idea that, either you're dealing with individual MPs who almost have to be one on a vote by vote basis, or you're dealing with parties that will be very, very shy of doing outright deals because they've had their fingers burned before. Yeah, a lot of it, as you say, depend on the arithmetic. 00:56:10:07 - 00:56:31:14 I mean, who who's going to be the second, third and fourth party? Is the Conservative Party going to be the second thought? And we talked about this on the podcast previously in some polls. you know, you run some of the polls through the electoral calculus machine, and they come up with the idea that the Conservatives might be such a rank that they could be the third or in some projections, even the fourth party, which again, seems improbable. 00:56:31:14 - 00:56:48:02 But if the Liberal Democrats were the official opposition, they're not going to want to do a deal. So they're their numbers by the Labour. Get it? It's numbers from it. It just yeah, it seems very improbable. But if they were to be a hung parliament, Keir Starmer I think would be in the driving seat in terms of the potential for allies. 00:56:48:02 - 00:57:13:21 So we will we will see. But I think I think that's probably not the challenge we're going to be grappling with. on the day after the general election, you mentioning the SNP, mark? And we've we talked on the podcast last week about the Post Office horizon System bill and the fact that there'd been a political round last week because the government was not applying that bill to postmasters in Scotland. 00:57:13:23 - 00:57:39:07 you know, we talked about, you know, these compensation schemes, the horizon system compensation scheme for postmasters recently, also potentially huge in terms of compensation. And we've had feedback from Stephen Imrie, who's a listener, but he's also clerk of the justice committee in the Scottish Parliament. He got in touch to say that we'd been saying the Scottish Government was going to have to legislate quite quickly for this for Scottish postmasters, he says. 00:57:39:07 - 00:58:00:15 But, despite everything going on in Scotland over the last week or so politically, and there have been a few distractions, let’s face it. Just a few. The government has confirmed that they're going to introduce a bill to the Scottish Parliament next week. So 14th of May, and they're going to try and get it through the Parliament on an emergency expedited basis. 00:58:00:17 - 00:58:31:16 And providing the Parliament is content with that, then the the plan is to have it scrutinized on the 21st and 22nd of May. So just a couple of weeks away, and then there'll be a sort of final amending stage where they'll try and do any necessary changes depending upon what's happened with the bill in the UK, in Westminster Parliament, you can imagine they'd have to be a bit of synchronized legislating here because you wouldn't want a situation where Scottish postmasters got a significantly better or indeed worse deal than postmasters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 00:58:31:18 - 00:58:50:04 So Westminster and Holyrood would have to work in tandem in a way that they're not particularly accustomed to doing. Yeah. Not keen. the other thing to remember about Scotland is it's a unicameral parliament, so only has to go through a one chamber, unlike the bill here at Westminster. So we'll have to see how they sort out the timing. 00:58:50:05 - 00:59:07:17 But it looks like it's probably by the end of May, certainly early June. That bill may well make the statute book. So thank you to Stephen for keeping us up to date. The to that he's enjoying the pot in Scotland. And with that mark, I think I think that's probably it for us this week. Plenty of things to keep us going over the coming days. 00:59:07:17 - 00:59:19:18 And I'll see you next week. Parliament never ceases to keep us entertained, Ruth. See you next week. See you. Bye. 00:59:19:20 - 00:59:39:18 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 or review on Apple or Spotify and sharing your feedback. Our producer tells us it's important for the algorithm to give the show a boost. Tell us more about the algorithm. 00:59:39:20 - 01:00:23:02 What do I know about algorithms? You know, I write my scripts with a quill pen on 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 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 @HansardSociety to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansard Society. 01:00:23:04 - 01:00:39:08 Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit or find us on social media at @HansardSociety.

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