Democracy is in danger, warns Theresa May - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 35

17 May 2024
©Hansard Society/Roger Harris
©Hansard Society/Roger Harris

In a powerful Churchill Attlee Lecture commemorating the Hansard Society's 80th anniversary, former Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a stark warning about the state of democracy. She expressed grave concerns about the waning trust in democratic institutions, particularly among young people.

Theresa May emphasised the urgent need for a culture of service in politics, criticizing the culture of exceptionalism at Westminster and the notion that MPs are above the law. She called for politicians to diligently serve their constituents and criticized career politicians lacking experience outside Westminster. May also stressed the importance of ministerial responsibility, urging politicians to refrain from blaming civil servants when policies encounter issues. Furthermore, she highlighted areas where the legislative and parliamentary process could be improved to ensure MPs are more effective representatives in the future.

This week, we also got a tantalizing glimpse of Labour's parliamentary strategy in a speech by Lucy Powell MP, the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons. Powell outlined Labour’s plans for legislative processes if they come to power, revealing insights into the workings of a shadow Parliamentary and Business Legislation Committee designed to stress-test legislative proposals. She hinted at potential reforms in parliamentary procedure and advocated for greater use of pre-legislative scrutiny.

A dramatic Commons vote at the start of the week shifted the threshold for excluding MPs from Westminster accused of serious crimes from the point of charge to the point of arrest. Labour MP Jess Phillips delivered a powerful speech, sharing victims' voices and emphasizing the need for stronger safeguards.

The pivotal moment came with Lib Dem Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP’s amendment, which passed by one vote. This amendment proposed earlier exclusion to protect the safety of those on the parliamentary estate. Chamberlain reveals the behind-the-scenes efforts and cross-party collaboration that led to the successful amendment. We discuss the implications of the vote and why it's likely that the House of Commons will need to revisit the rules for proxy voting by MPs because of this week’s drama.

  • What does former Prime Minister Theresa May MP think about the state of our democracy, politics and Parliament?

  • What are Labour's plans for Parliament if they win the next election?

  • When and how will MPs be excluded from the parliamentary estate if they are accused of serious violent and sexual offences?

  • How did MPs across parties combine to lower the threshold on the House of Commons Commission's proposal to exclude MPs from the estate at the point of arrest rather than charge?

  • Why might the House of Commons need to revisit the rules for proxy voting because of the decision on risk-based exclusion?

Parliament Matters is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Parliament Matters is supported by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

©UK Parliament

Wendy Chamberlain is the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for North East Fife. She was first elected to Parliament at the 2019 general election and has served as the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Spokesperson for Work and Pensions since 2020. She currently sits on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee and on the Speaker's Conference, which was set up in 2022 to consider the employment conditions of MPs' staff. Wendy is also the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ending the Need for Foodbanks. During her time in Parliament she successfully sponsored a Private Members' Bill - the Carer's Leave Act 2023 - which created an entitlement for employees to be absent from work to provide or arrange care for a dependent. Before entering Parliament, she spent 12 years serving as a police officer.

Hansard Society

Institute for Government


House of Commons Commission

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.

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, Theresa May warns democracy is in danger in the inaugural Hansard Society Churchill-Attlee Democracy Lecture. Suddenly, people are asking how Labour would govern. And this week we got a couple of glimpses of their strategy for Parliament. 00:00:40:22 - 00:00:57:01 And behind the scenes in the Commons knife edge vote on excluding MPs accused of violent or sexual crimes. "I've only been on the side of a winning vote, maybe once, maybe twice, since I was elected." 00:00:59:11 - 00:01:23:12 But first, Ruth, I think we really do have to talk about Theresa May's warning about confidence in democracy in the Churchill-Attlee Lecture. This is the start of the Hansard Society's 80th anniversary celebrations, and the former Prime Minister was actually rather downbeat about the state of our democracy at the moment, about particularly the lack of trust for democratic institutions amongst younger people. And the figures that she was producing were really quite alarming.

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