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Parliament Matters – High drama or damp squib?… And what’s happening with pairing? (Episode 8)

15 Dec 2023
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Despatch Box during the Second Reading debate on the Rwanda Bill in the House of Commons, December 2023. ©UK Parliament / Maria Unger
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Despatch Box during the Second Reading debate on the Rwanda Bill in the House of Commons, December 2023. ©UK Parliament / Maria Unger

Well, in the end, was it high drama or a bit of a damp squib? This was the week when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s fate was supposedly in the balance, as MPs on his own side decided whether they were going to back his Rwanda Bill. As it turned out, he won and won quite handily. But what happens now?

To discuss the events of the week, we were joined in the studio by Rob Hutton, parliamentary sketchwriter at The Critic Magazine, to get his verdict from the press gallery. We unpack the mysteries of ‘pairing’ for parliamentary votes, the impact of the Covid inquiry on political events at Westminster, and we look ahead to the Liaison Committee’s evidence session with the Prime Minister before Parliament wraps up for the festive break.

And with an eye on the resurgence of democracy in Poland, we highlight the impact on the Polish Parliament, where a record number of viewers are tuning in to watch the Sjem’s proceedings.

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 Matters Episode #8

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.

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You are listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society Production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at hansardsociety.org.uk/pm.

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Hello and welcome to Parliament Matters Podcast from the Hansard Society. About the institution at the heart of our democracy, Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox. And I'm Mark Darcy. Every week we're going to be analyzing what's going on behind the Gothic facade of Westminster, hoping you to stay on top of the key parliamentary issues of the week and what lies ahead.

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And we'll be explaining how the system works. Hearing about the latest research and innovations in Parliament and politics from influential thinkers and practitioners providing new perspectives from inside and outside of Westminster. I will be traveling back in time to some of the pivotal moments in parliamentary history to help you understand exactly how we've arrived, where we are today coming up.

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So the government survived the second reading vote on the Rwanda bill, but also out of the woods yet. And what's going to happen next? Certainly more trouble to come, One suspects. And we'll be talking to one of the sharpest observers of what goes on on the floor of the House of Commons about what's happening now, what the mood of MPs is and how the whole issue is going to play in the longer term.

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But before we get there, Mark, I just want to say a few words to thank everyone for listening to the podcast and sending us some really kind messages, particularly our growing legion of international listeners, particularly those of you in Canada. You know who you are. If you're enjoying the podcast, remember to rate it wherever you get your podcasts.

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It really helps others find out about us. And if you've got any questions, send them to us and we'll answer them over one of our urgent question episodes or one of our bonus episodes. Send them to Hansol Society dot org dot UK slash PM UK-EU. And as we're approaching the Christmas season, we've got some special bonus episodes for you so you don't miss out on your parliamentary fix over the festive season.

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So make sure you're subscribed. Make sure you're following us on social media at Hansol Society to get them in your podcast feed as soon as they are published. Well, in the end, was it high drama or a bit of a damp squib? This was the week when Rishi Sunak's fate was supposedly in the balance as MPs on his own side decided whether or not they were going to back his rule double.

00;02;24;29 - 00;02;44;09

The thought was that if the Prime Minister lost the second reading vote in the Commons and the bill didn't go forward even from its first debate, there'd be trouble. As it turned out, he won and won quite handily. And with us in the studio now is Rob Hutton, parliamentary sketch writer of The Critic magazine, who's been watching and documenting the proceedings as they unfolded.

00;02;44;09 - 00;03;08;01

So, Rob, what's your verdict? High drama, damp squib, more damp squib than high drama, I'm afraid. I mean, I think I was expecting it to be squib because most of these do not, in fact, live up to billing in the Brexit years. The thing was the majority was tiny, so you did only ever need a small number of MPs to rebel to put whatever the government wanted to do in jeopardy.

00;03;08;01 - 00;03;29;18

Now, even though we're having this sort of slow erosion of Tory MP two resigning and being recalled, the whole thing recalled sort of at the rate of about one a month these days. And you know, a long enough that was the Government's majority, but there is still a comfortable majority. So you sort you need to be organized, really organized to get a rebellion.

00;03;29;18 - 00;03;52;11

And and actually this is a nerd's point, but the guy who is doing the organizing in all the Brexit years was Steve Baker and he was a really effective whip, for want of a better word. Yeah, they called him rebel commander, didn't they? Yeah. And he had a little black book and he knew. He knew what everyone wanted and he did all of the bits of it because some of whipping is a pastoral role.

00;03;52;18 - 00;04;11;25

It's about looking after people and understanding, you know, remarks that you don't actually you don't really want to do this one and well, okay, you know, I put my arm around you and say, Well, come on, come on through for us anyway. And well, maybe, maybe you want to sit this one out and I'll, you know, because I know my numbers, I know I can afford to lose you.

00;04;11;25 - 00;04;31;01

And I know I know my numbers and I know the other guy's numbers. And Steve was really good at that, and they've never quite replaced him since. You know, he's no stars. Yes. So there needed to be someone else in the Brexiteer ranks who could kind of herd the cats in the same general direction. And there isn't someone who can do that, apparently.

00;04;31;06 - 00;04;55;11

Yeah. I mean, it is it's there's all sorts of things that are sort of astonishing about politics when you explain them and you think this can't quite be true. But but one of the things that is true is there are 650 members of parliament of whom 640 something actually turn up, of whom 630 something vote, correct me and my numbers five minus the Sinn Fein, minus the Sinn Fein MP speakers and teach for life.

00;04;55;12 - 00;05;15;23

And I think yeah, that's actually a relatively easy number of people to keep track of. You know, all their names and you know where all of them work and yet actually keeping track of them is something that both official whips and unofficial whips find surprisingly hard to do. I mean, going back to Brexit is there was this argument.

00;05;15;23 - 00;05;34;19

There was we kept saying the story. I'm duty was briefed to me at one point that there were 30 Labor MP who were ready to vote with the Government to get a Brexit deal through. And I remember I started saying to government ministers and Tory MP, Well, who are they? And three Yeah, well you know that they couldn't, you could name three, name five.

00;05;34;22 - 00;05;57;16

And then I got interested and I started totting them up and I said, well I think I can get you to 12. And I ran that story and I ran basically saying that there are not 30, but I think there might be 12. And I got a phone call from someone in government saying who is it really? You know, not entirely encouraging you really.

00;05;57;17 - 00;06;12;25

And that was the moment at which I thought, this is not going through. You got it. You guys, you guys can't do this because the work of an afternoon to phone them all and ask them and you could phone every Labor MP and say, Would you vote with us and ask me? Wow, hard. But in the same way the rebels just just they're not organized.

00;06;12;27 - 00;06;29;14

But isn't this partly as a reflection on your professions, if I may say, for both of you, because you talk about high drama. I mean, the drama is built up not just by the politicians but by the media. You know, I mean, frankly, how many of your colleagues are frankly just a bit gullible and believe what some of these MPs consciously slamming it up?

00;06;29;18 - 00;06;50;09

consciously farming know. Yes. I mean, I would never accuse any of my colleagues gullibility. My goodness, the very idea there are. But there are very few incentives in journalism ever, especially on a Sunday afternoon shift when there isn't much happening, to go to the editor and say, I think we've got much more story. I think it's going to be fine.

00;06;50;11 - 00;07;09;14

All of the incentives are to Fleming up and you've got lots of people who are in this who are good at drama and in the sense of, you know, they're good at giving brilliant briefing quotes about bottles of whiskey and revolvers and parasites. My own thought is, you know, where they are and where people are going to be stabbed and, you know, and emergency breakfast.

00;07;09;14 - 00;07;28;23

And so there's lots of material. And when somebody says to you, will, could you not lose? And you say, well, these are not could lose, you know, I mean, he could there were I don't think we've quite got to the bottom of how many of the 60 people who didn't vote were abstentions, as opposed to other sorts of as it were, deliberative sanctions imposed, people who were absent.

00;07;28;26 - 00;07;46;19

But let's say 40 of them were deliberate abstentions, which doesn't seem to be implausible because there are people who are angry about this. Had they all voted against, it's feasible. So I think I think it was natural that it would end up getting built up. I mean, I always before I was a sketch writer, I worked for Bloomberg.

00;07;46;19 - 00;08;00;22

And actually a big part of my job was explaining to my readers that they didn't necessarily need to believe everything that they had read in the British. You know, you don't the government probably the government is not going to fall this week. You should not buy or sell a pound on the basis of that is going to happen.

00;08;00;24 - 00;08;24;00

And an increasingly actually in a sort of in a clickbait world of news in which we live, there is very little percentage in having the, you know, the fourth most exciting story about something on the Internet, you want to have the most exciting story. So we're talking about the overestimation, if you like, of the power of the conservative, right, the five families, as they were rather dramatically being described at one point.

00;08;24;02 - 00;08;40;22

What about the other side of the equation? Because there were two strands to this story. One was that the hardliners wanted the bill drastically toughened up, and the other strand of it was that they were One Nation Tories out there who thought they'd gone just about as far as they could be dragged on the issue of abandoning the European Convention on Human Rights.

00;08;40;25 - 00;09;00;23

And if they were dragged any further, these One Nation Tories might get antsy themselves and maybe not vote for the bill if the hardline, as were a paper tiger, were the One Nation side. A paper tiger as well? Yes. So first of all, it is an underestimated achievement of Rishi Sunak. It's managed to not just split the Conservative Party once but twice while uniting the opposition.

00;09;00;23 - 00;09;28;19

I mean, this is a real wedge issue. Well done, I, I watched Bob Neil's speech. Bob, Neil, share the Justice Committee assessment. It's a very low smear, a serious lawyer, a kindly, thoughtful man. And he was sort of explaining why he would vote for this, but he wouldn't vote for anything any further. And I'm afraid forgive me, Bob, I thought I wouldn't want to be in a foxhole with anyone from the One Nation group if you were in a foxhole with someone from the Tory.

00;09;28;19 - 00;09;47;19

Right. But Mark Francois, he'd be shooting. I mean, he might he might be shooting in the wrong direction, but he would at least be shooting. I would. Having watched the One Nation Group fall in behind Boris Johnson in 2019, none of these guys is they are always going to be saying, well, okay, you can have this thing you can have it.

00;09;47;22 - 00;10;04;02

But one more thing. One more thing, and that's it. They are they are the least impressive, threatening people. I mean, one day, one day, maybe it will happen. There's a marvelous sketch by the late Robin Williams about the British police being unarmed. You saying, what do they do? They say, stop or I should stop again. That's it. That's it.

00;10;04;02 - 00;10;22;00

Yes. But on the other hand, the one thing that the One Nation Group have got that the five families or whatever you call them have not got, is that if they all voted against something, they can stop it because they will be voting with the opposition. So are there 30 of them? Are there 30 of them who are willing to rebel?

00;10;22;02 - 00;10;43;19

I'm skeptical, but if they did, they will be voting with Labor and with the SNP and with the Liberal Democrats and apparently possibly with the DUP. And at that point they can kill anything. So although I don't personally ever believe that I will see it, if I did see it, it would work. Where is the problem that the five families have got as they go into Committee Stage?

00;10;43;19 - 00;11;10;23

You're going to see and I was going to say to explain for our listeners what the five families are using this technology. I'm consciously sorry, but consciously we've got some listeners, not least that's outside the UK. So we've talked about European research group. Yeah, you need both to use two heads, so that's one of them. So basically the Conservative Party has got all these sort of factional groups, an alphabet soup of them and the tribe we're talking about on this issue in relation to Rwanda, you've got the new conservatives which are sort of headed up by Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger.

00;11;10;25 - 00;11;26;03

You've got the Common Sense Group headed up by Sir John Hayes, which is sort of fighting the culture wars and the sort of anti-woke issues. You've got the Northern Research Group, I think with Johnson. Are you going to ask me to name that? Because I wouldn't have agreed to come on if I'd known that it was going to be like, Which one?

00;11;26;04 - 00;11;45;21

If I like that? And then you've got the Conservative groups group headed up by Ronald Jayawardena. I think that's the five. But there's an alphabet soup that they also interlock a lot. And yes, yes, some people can be in several of these groups. So there's a kind of constellation of group circles around the edge of the conservative Party also tugging at its head.

00;11;45;24 - 00;12;01;24

They said that they'd met together and they sort of said, look to the bill in the star chamber. They've met together, and they'd agreed collaboratively that they were going to take a common position and they clearly didn't. I suppose the composition was they were going to abstain, you know, very company. Some of them voted for the bill. right.

00;12;01;24 - 00;12;26;18

Yes, yes, right. So so not even I watched because actually we had a very early signing day that day. So I had to have my copy away by 5:00. And I watched the first 2 hours of this and I thought, this is fine, that you do get a sense when people are fixing to vote again. And you know, the point to which I said you might copy off, no one had yet and I did obviously no one did stand up and say, I shall vote against.

00;12;26;24 - 00;12;44;01

One of the mysteries, though, of the Rwanda debate was this whole question of pairing. Now, the normal business of MPs sort of pairing up with someone who's going to vote in the opposite direction so that they can both be absent from the chamber. It's just a routine part of parliamentary life. But in a debate this big, it's something that's a bit less usual.

00;12;44;01 - 00;13;10;02

I mean, there were one or two people who clearly were paired. Lisa Nandy It, I think, just had surgery or something, the Labor Shadow Minister, and she said on Twitter that she was paired with someone, but you also had Graham Stewart, the Climate Change minister, come scuttling back from the meeting in the Gulf that he was attending that a climate conference and that attracted quite a lot of attention because that suggested the alarm bells were really clanging in the whip's office, that they were getting a minister some 3000 miles away to rush back to cast a vote.

00;13;10;09 - 00;13;26;18

Yes. And I mean, actually, it was a moment, one moment of drama during the debate quite early on was when we saw Peter Bone wander back in, who has basically not been seen since he was found against by Standards Committee. And somebody had obviously phoned him up and said, okay, so back here we well, his sanction have expired.

00;13;26;20 - 00;13;49;10

Yes. So know he was able to come back, but he's still subject to his recall petition. He is generally he's been keeping a low profile. And so his his presence was taken slightly as as a sign that the government was worried. I mean, the basic way that pairing works is, is that there is a government which opposition and opposition which office and an MP who for whatever reason doesn't want to or can't get the vote, goes to their whip and says, Please, can I have a slip?

00;13;49;10 - 00;14;06;14

It's called Can I, can I be slipped by a slip of paper, I think. And the whips will say, Well, we will see what we can do. And they obviously have an order of priority now and they find someone else to stay. So. So they then go across the lobby to the other whips office and they say we've got three people who can't make it.

00;14;06;16 - 00;14;30;29

Do you have three people who can't make it? And we will offset them against each other. This is what's called the usual channels. And it's a sort of it's a way that Parliament works sometimes it breaks down during the Brexit years again. Jo Swinson The Liberal Democrat, was on maternity leave and this is my story actually. She tweeted, I am not voting and she said who she was paired with and I'd just seen him vote.

00;14;31;02 - 00;14;51;18

And so I phoned her up and I said, I didn't think you are paid. And she said, Well, I am. And they were right. There was a big row about it because essentially this is cheating is not against the code of honor that you're supposed to operate. But yes. And Alister Carmichael, who is the LibDem whip, was absolutely furious about this, but also Andrea Leadsom, I think, was she leader of the House at the time.

00;14;51;18 - 00;15;10;03

But under Andrea Leadsom, who's very big on maternity rights and early years care, was she was from the government side, absolutely livid that the government had done this to a woman who was on maternity leave, you know, in Scotland. I mean, you know, not easy for Jo Swinson to sort of just pop down so it can go wrong.

00;15;10;07 - 00;15;32;24

I don't see I think I think the result of that is that since then they have been a bit more careful about about it, because if you if it breaks down, the danger is that everyone it's in it's in the great play this house when they say right pairings off traffic ensues. Yes. So I'm not surprised in a sense that Lisa Nandy was paired because you would, if you're a whip, your your priority would be people who are in hospital.

00;15;32;24 - 00;15;50;27

But you'd also thought that a similar deal might apply to a government minister representing Britain at a really important international conference. What's Graham's do at someone's back a bit of performance on well I wonder. I wonder if it was I mean I don't know who else the government had on. It's on its list. I mean, it may be that they had said they had somebody else who was in hospital as well.

00;15;50;27 - 00;16;09;15

They brought select committees back. I mean, the International Development Committee was due to be in the Caribbean. I think I think around the time of year four, it was like either the International Development Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee. But, you know, they both they both had to cancel trips. And again, you know, you you just thought, well, maybe not everybody could have been spared.

00;16;09;15 - 00;16;28;07

There could have been some whether you do, because those could those committees have got people on both sides. And then it comes back to the theater was a building up this idea that yeah it's much closer than well, a bit of expectations management. Yes. I wonder also, I mean, again, how good is the government whipping operation at the moment?

00;16;28;12 - 00;16;45;25

You hear different things and I don't particularly have a view on the current lot, but actually, if ideally the government whip knows on the morning of the vote what the vote is going to be if they have done their job properly. That's how it works because you just ought to know really by then, you know, very few people.

00;16;45;25 - 00;17;04;25

So are we are we seeing the whips pretending to be all seeing and this is this is us being terribly coming and generating a sense of crisis just to dramatize events when actually we knew it was going to be all right. Or is that what they're pretending what happened? And they had no idea. I think there's also a thing that if somebody is in the Middle East to get them back, because if we realize we need to get them back at 2:00, that's going to be too late.

00;17;04;25 - 00;17;23;19

Yeah, You know, I mean, there was a vote that Gordon Brown was it coming? What it was it must have been ID cards or something. In 2005, Gordon Brown literally landed in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and took off again. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. You that was that that, that was it. That one point. His one trip to the Middle East.

00;17;23;21 - 00;17;39;17

I don't think he actually got off the runway because they needed him back. Because it's one thing to say, you know, you can sort of, you can, you can nip out for dinner, but be ready to come back if if I need you. It's another thing. If you're if you're you know, if you're a thousand miles away. Yeah.

00;17;39;20 - 00;17;55;12

Then yeah. So maybe they didn't want to take that risk. We should explain for listeners, this is private deal actually between the whips. This is not something that's formally recorded by the House of Commons officials and doesn't enter the record. So it's not part of the voting records of the House. We know that they were not present to vote.

00;17;55;14 - 00;18;14;22

We don't know that it was because they were paid. No, we don't. And you have to ring people up and ask them. There are a whole load of procedures in the House that are not written down, but that you know that all well managed and a lot of them have to do with the Whips Office. But these are essentially political political arrangements as opposed to two formal parliamentary, right.

00;18;14;23 - 00;18;30;24

Yes. Yeah. So yeah. So half the fun of going through a list of who's voted which way at the end of a sort of contentious vote like that one is trying to figure out when the people weren't there, whether they were not there because they had arranged to be away or whether this was a sort of political process and they weren't supporting their own side.

00;18;30;26 - 00;18;47;05

I mean, sometimes MEPs enjoy a bit of constructive ambiguity about that. They're sort of the version of John Major's to think, Well, I wanted to be there, but sadly I was unable. I mean, sometimes I'm sure, as with Lisa Nandy, she wants people to know and actually it's easier now because the social media, because there's all this pressure on a piece.

00;18;47;07 - 00;19;04;16

I think 20 years ago The Shadow, you know, would not have bothered to explain their absence. But. But Lisa Nandy wants her voters to know, Look, I would have been there, but I'm in hospital. I have a good excuse. Other people sometimes are quite happy for no one to quite know. There's also the business of what's called a conscious abstention.

00;19;04;16 - 00;19;21;15

There's an I think there was one in this one where an MP will vote on both sides. Wall Street banks lobbies. Yeah. So actually they live here in both lists and that's their way of saying I pitched up and I did my job and I am very deliberately abstaining and I'm abstaining at work as opposed to sleeping off for a drink.

00;19;21;19 - 00;19;47;14

And what do you think was the irritation levels generated by all this among MP you mean? Yeah, particularly conservative ones. The trouble is that they've sort of become obsessed with Rwanda as a solution and I don't see why it is. I mean, I genuinely just think if people are willing to cross the world's busiest sea lane to get here, the prospect that they might that they have a very small chance of being put on a plane to Rwanda one day is not that much of a deterrent.

00;19;47;16 - 00;20;11;18

But conservative are sort of convinced themselves that literally if this passes, so the small boats problem stops it. I mean, the oddest thing about this is that in the last couple of weeks, we've learned that, you know, even if you did get small boats to zero, if you're if you think that immigration is a major issue, you've got hundreds of thousands of people who are coming to Britain completely legally and that is government policy, then all these people are coming with visas that the Home Office has given them.

00;20;11;20 - 00;20;27;26

If you think that's a problem, you sort of need to go and have a word with the Home Office. And we're now told. But what happens next is that they're waiting to see how the bill is amended. When it comes up. They're going to be two days of committee of the Whole House on this in the new year at some point, six hour slugs twice.

00;20;27;28 - 00;20;45;27

And that's the moment they say they want the government to change the bill. What we know now is that on that showing, they don't have the numbers to force an amendment. Even if they could find something on which they could vote with the opposition. And that seems extremely unlikely. So at this stage, it's basically if Rishi Singh that wants to keep these guys happy, he can make amendments.

00;20;45;27 - 00;21;10;00

But actually couldn't he just ignore them? Well, yes. I mean, so I was it was then later talking to a Tory MP who said, well, yes, you know, this was our moment of maximum strength and they did nothing. So their threat is that when the bill comes back for a third reading after the committee stage, which is the next point, at which as it were, they vote on the whole thing, they could vote against it at that point.

00;21;10;00 - 00;21;27;24

And at that point Labor will be voting all the opposition parties will be voting against it. So if they were to vote with Labor, they could kill it and Labor, as it were, would be killing it, trying to kill it because they think it's a terrible idea and they will be trying to kill it. They divide families, we'll be trying to kill it because they think it doesn't go far enough.

00;21;27;26 - 00;21;47;08

Are they going to get 30 of them to do it? It's a very big ask, isn't it? Yeah. And what then? Because you're killing your Rwanda bill so that you can have nothing, you know? And actually, I mean, one of the interesting moments in the debate where I think I mean, I slightly hesitate to attribute this to Edward Lee, I'm pretty sure said something along the lines.

00;21;47;08 - 00;22;02;14

Well, I'm not really sure that this would work. We've got to do something and this is something. So we'll do it. Not using those words, but that was that was a neutral sort of thought. This is desperate guys. That does not sound to me like somebody who's going to say, we've got to do something. This something isn't good enough, so we'll do nothing.

00;22;02;16 - 00;22;23;05

So what you then go is the prospect that the bill gets through in the form. The government likes it, it gets sent to the House of Lords where all the sort of smaller liberal super lawyers in the House of Lords fall upon it and rewrite it in ways the Government doesn't like, make sure that there are lots of human rights protections and they take a very big issue with the idea that the government can by law declare Rwanda to be safe.

00;22;23;05 - 00;22;47;17

I think Edward Garnier, the former solicitor general, was saying this is equivalent to legislating to declare all dogs to be cats or vice versa. And so, yeah, you could see the bill bouncing back from the House of Lords in a few months time, but maybe the government wants that. Maybe the government actually wants a whacking great row about migration policy or they want a working great row about the House of Lords, ranking great right about the House of Lords that they can possibly take to the country in a general election.

00;22;47;20 - 00;23;08;15

That's the operating theory is that the only possible argument for this is that they want to have a fight. I mean I if I had to put money on it, I still don't expect a flight to Rwanda to take off. Certainly not one containing any sort of lobby. One could take second. Yeah, we might get a new home secretary and they would they too will have to go to a lender and hand over 50 million quid for something of nothing.

00;23;08;17 - 00;23;30;09

But even just going just the bill. But there's also the treaty and the treaty has provisions in it for bodies, monitoring bodies and so on to be set up, to be established, as opposed to look at, you know, what happens once we start sending people across. That's going to take time. So the timetable just doesn't quite. And if you're with the Rwandan government, you can see what's happening here as well as anyone else.

00;23;30;09 - 00;23;46;17

I mean, it's not so much that you'll be dragging your feet. It's just tell you what this is. We've got the money, this is the problem. It's going probably going to go away in a year. Why don't we just get on with other things? Yes. I don't see how I get through the Lords because they can't use a Parliament Act because there isn't time.

00;23;46;17 - 00;24;12;04

Because there isn't time. Because they can't say this was in the manifesto, because it wasn't in the manifesto and because it's also something that the House of Lords cares about. Yeah, so this is the worst kind of thing to take. The House of Lords is anything to do with human rights. You think of all the big basically all the big rails with the Lords have been home secretaries trying to do something and all of the people do anything in the House of Lords, bishops, lawyers, former judges.

00;24;12;08 - 00;24;30;28

These are people that you do not want to try and smuggle human rights stuff past. And they can all see and also they can they can see that there isn't a huge amount of enthusiasm for this in the Commons and they to have a sense of the way in which the wind is blowing. And, you know, if we just take our time on this lads, this, this one goes away.

00;24;30;28 - 00;25;00;19

So where does this leave the Conservative Party in the House of Commons? I mean, do you think back to 2019 they were all conquering that one Labor heartland seats. The Opposition was nowhere. There must be this enormous sense that frankly, they've blown it. I think that's undeniable. And there was partly there was all of this stuff that Boris Johnson was elected promising to do, which if he had done it, you know, I mean, let's imagine that leveling up, whatever it turned out to be, had been delivered over the last four years.

00;25;00;21 - 00;25;16;14

Labor might be sitting in places like Teesside, sitting there thinking, Well, I don't understand how we get how we get this place back. But if I were a Labor candidate in any of those red wall seats which are held by small majorities, generally, I'd just be going around saying they would have taken them back. You know, they promise you this stuff.

00;25;16;14 - 00;25;33;29

Where is it? Where are your bigger roads? Where's your new leisure center? Where's your library? Can you see a doctor? Did things get better? Well, it's the traditional election campaigning. Are you better off today than you were in 2019 2010? Words that both Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves are using on a regular basis in every chance they get cool campaigning took.

00;25;34;03 - 00;25;53;08

Yes, that was the Commons Adventures over Rwanda. But before that you were looking at what Rishi Sunak had to say in the COVID inquiry, and before him what Boris Johnson had to say in the COVID inquiry. Now that's all been taking place kind of offstage from Parliament, but it's going to feed into Parliament eventually. What do you think is going to happen there?

00;25;53;10 - 00;26;21;20

So in terms of how MPs feel, none of that I think is making me feel better. I mean, Rishi Sunak definitely did better at the COVID inquiry than Boris Johnson did in the sense that Boris Johnson was doing all of the things that Boris Johnson does. He was contradicting himself, he was saying things that seem implausible. The problem with what Rishi Sunak was doing at the core of the inquiry was there was an awful lot of I don't recalls and in fact there were various sort of compilation videos.

00;26;21;20 - 00;26;37;22

Now doing the rounds on the Internet of Things he can't remember. Look, if I were a lawyer, I'm not a lawyer. If I were lawyer advising you before the Cobra inquiry, I would just say, look, just you can't recall. You don't recall. Nobody can prove that you can remember something. You penned an absolutely savage sketch which opened with the phrase IQ of 145 and can't remember.

00;26;37;22 - 00;27;05;27

Yes, that's a joke. A joke that only people over 50 will get, Sadly, yeah. It's a good tactic for avoiding indictment, if you see what I mean. But it's not a good political tactic in the best defense in the sense that the government ministers have got at the Cobra inquiry as we were swept along by events and we were doing what the scientists told us and the science kept changing and we were just trying to keep up, which I think has the virtue that is in large part true, certainly in the early days.

00;27;05;29 - 00;27;24;25

And actually I think that you can go a long way with the public when you talk to people about this, people understand that, you know, in March, in March 2020, it was tough. You know, no one would have wanted to be making those decisions. You know, shall we close this show? Because it was a completely managed time. Maybe it took you a week longer.

00;27;24;25 - 00;27;40;00

I know that, you know, the Cobra Families for Justice will feel differently. But I think I think you could make a pretty good case out in the country saying, yeah, we spent a week longer than maybe we should have trying to decide whether we were going to shutter every business and close every school. And that was a big decision.

00;27;40;00 - 00;28;00;27

The problem is you start, you get to two things. You get to a the chaos that sort of follows that and the feeling. There's just a feeling from about sort of the summer of 2020 that the government was all over the shop. And everything we learned from the COVID inquiry is that, yes, the government was all over shut when actually although all of these WhatsApp messages and everything are all absolutely fascinating.

00;28;00;29 - 00;28;23;07

What's really interesting to me in my job now, where I'm not constantly trying to sort of get a behind the scenes look, I am literally my job is to sit there and look at what is on the record happening in public and write about it and, you know, make jokes about it, frankly, is the extent to which, yeah, you know, all my sketches from that point stand up because the way that you can tell the government is in chaos was because every week they said a different thing.

00;28;23;12 - 00;28;39;19

And one day Boris Johnson would be saying, Of course I won't do that. And the next day he'd be doing it. It was on the record, as it were, the chaos. So all that great sweeping lessons to be learned about how future pandemics should be handled or is it basically if you had a different prime minister, it would probably have been rather more orderly.

00;28;39;22 - 00;29;01;03

I'm sure that I mean, it's very hard to imagine that it would have been less orderly with different priorities. Probably got the COVID inquiry is that it's holding public hearings. It's also taking hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence that's just written, evidence that the baroness is how it is sitting there and reading. And people think that the inquiry is the public evidence.

00;29;01;06 - 00;29;17;17

Actually, the inquiry is lots of other things. The inquiry is having a series of phases, so a lot of the stuff that we're reading over, why aren't they doing this, Why aren't they doing that? They're doing education. They're doing that in a future phase, right. All happening at once. We're in the government decision making phase. There's a lot about government decision making.

00;29;17;17 - 00;29;36;21

Turn on. Tune in, drop out. Rob, thanks very much for joining us on the podcast. Pleasure. Well, there's a certain element of apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play? But Ruth, what else caught your eye in this week's parliamentary events? Well, we have the last PMQs of the year, but it was a pretty, pretty dull session.

00;29;36;21 - 00;29;57;00

Not much to say about it because Rishi Sunak survives the COVID inquiry in tax, and there wasn't really much, much significant news that came out about it. He didn't recall a lot, and that was reflected in reflected in PMQs. And I think Keir Starmer had a certain amount of fun, but I don't think there was anything terminally wounding in the exchanges there.

00;29;57;00 - 00;30;18;09

And it was just the the PMQs as usual, I think. Yeah. The other thing that did catch my eye was another parents brief by Kemi Badenoch before the Women and Equalities Committee, where there was a bit of a stand off between her and some of the committee members over poor questioning. It was a pretty bad tempered discussion. I mean, Kevin Baden look is pretty terrier like she doesn't let go when she's got bit between her teeth.

00;30;18;12 - 00;30;36;17

And there's a dispute about the use of the word epidemic in relation to discussion about the rise in the number of young people who told the trans community. This was taken as an insult by a Labor MP and there was a sort of, you know, quite a lot of back and forth about, know, accusations of lying, unparliamentary language.

00;30;36;21 - 00;30;55;16

I think you should withdraw that statement. It all got a bit heated and messy. It used to be sort of can call it that. It crossed the street to have a fight. And I think it is very much in that tradition of pugilistic conservatism. Then she's she's not going to back down in front of that committee and she's quite enjoying, I think, having some of those fights because I'm sure they win her a lot of credit.

00;30;55;18 - 00;31;13;23

Where she needs to win credit. Yeah. I mean, she's you know, there's a lot of conservative MP who were applauding her for her stance. So that was one event on the committee corridor. Another that took my eye was the pre appointment hearing for the new chair of the BBC. Some initial he was up in front of the culture Media and Sport Committee.

00;31;13;25 - 00;31;38;04

Now pre appointment hearings were introduced in 2007. Basically select committees take evidence from a minister's preferred candidates for particular key appointments. They take place before the appointment is confirmed but after the actual selection has taken place. So it's only one sort of nominee. It's not as if the committee's got a choice and they're not confirmation hearings in the sense that the person doesn't not get the job.

00;31;38;06 - 00;31;59;27

If the committee doesn't like them, the committee can find out what they think about stuff. But you can't say no, You shouldn't appoint that person. They can recommend against it, but they can't block it. Yeah, I mean, recent recent years, the same committee culture, media and schools, I think said that the government's nominee to chair the Charity Commission was what they described as an archetypal and unimaginative choice.

00;31;59;27 - 00;32;20;13

And the committee didn't feel able to approve his appointment. So they without the approval, simply. Michael Grant, of course, you know, well-known broadcaster and former chairman of the BBC. And yeah, indeed, media figure he was lined up to be chairman of Ofcom and the committee thought that he lacked depth when talking about social media and online safety. And again, they didn't feel able to to support his appointment.

00;32;20;13 - 00;32;41;03

But did it go ahead? And he went ahead anyway and this is the thing. So sometimes, you know, the committee, if they criticize appointments and sometimes the candidate themselves will withdraw. I mean, Dame Janet Finch withdrew some years ago. She was she was recommended to be charity. I think it was Office for National Statistics. And sometimes, you know, it can be a fairly excoriating report from the committee and the government just press is a hybrid.

00;32;41;04 - 00;32;55;21

Of course, famously, one of the very early ones that happened was that Bowles, when he pressed ahead with I think it was the the children's commissioner, the sort of dying stages of the Gordon Brown government, much to the angst of the select committee chair at the time, Barry Sheerman, the Labor veteran who's standing down at the next election.

00;32;55;21 - 00;33;22;10

But that was an example really of the kind of almost ritual nature sometimes of these hearings. I mean, there may be a bit of fun to be had questioning the person, but it's has to be a pretty catastrophic implosion for them not to not be appointed. After the hearing. Yeah, I mean, this was an interesting one, of course, because it raised the question about Gary Lineker as the host of Match of the Day, his social media activity again in recent weeks.

00;33;22;13 - 00;33;37;28

And, you know, there's also sort of been issues around whether there's been political interference at the BBC. I think the appointment Sunday show, I mean, you know, better than I do. Quite an interesting appointment. Well, something shows not a grand city figure in the tradition of some of the other recent appointments. Sammy Show is actually a serious broadcaster.

00;33;37;28 - 00;33;56;03

When I first came down to work at BBC Westminster, he was the head of the Westminster operation. He's a serious political producer. A very long standing was on Panorama and various other programs for quite a while. So it'll be very interesting to see what he does when he's in charge of the BBC interested in this absolute fetishization of Gary Lineker.

00;33;56;03 - 00;34;19;00

Why on earth it is grown politicians are completely obsessed by what's tweeted by a football commentator. I mean, if I tweeted some of the stuff Gary Lineker tweeted, I would be in trouble. But then I was doing political programs. I was directly involved as a political correspondent. He isn't. And I just do wonder if this is all getting slightly out of proportion because Gary Lineker is a Remainer and has become a bit of a hate figure in certain sections.

00;34;19;02 - 00;34;37;04

He also I mean, he's got he's got huge political podcasting, he's power in higher power and he's got a huge social media following. He can reach many more people than most politicians can. And that's why one of the reasons it bothers him. But I'm sure he'd continue doing it, whether he's working for the BBC or not, for a start.

00;34;37;06 - 00;34;55;02

Also on the committee corridor, incidentally, just worth marking a another doffing up for the permanent secretary, the top official at the Home Office, Sir Matthew Rycroft at the Home Affairs Select Committee, who still aren't at all happy about some of his performances. They were quizzing him about the cost of the Rwanda scheme and it wasn't a happy sight.

00;34;55;05 - 00;35;19;09

They raised questions about some integrity, the accountability, the objectivity and the transparency of his approach to informing them as committee chairs about about the wonderful costs on this whole deal and what it what it what it involves. And it all concluded with the chair of the committee, Dame Diana Johnson, saying that there was not a good relationship between the committee and the department.

00;35;19;09 - 00;35;38;16

And if he thought it was, he was delusional. So that was a pretty sharp way to end the occasion. And just another thought. There's a regular stream at the moment of quite senior MPs announcing their departure from Parliament. It's with an election looming, there's quite a lot of pressure on people to say, will they stay or will they go or will they at least attempt to stay?

00;35;38;19 - 00;35;59;16

But the latest name to come up in that connection is the former Labor chief whip, Nick Brown, who's had the withdrawn and has been the subject of an internal labor investigation for really quite a long time now, well over a year on allegations that we simply don't know about. And there's a very interesting natural justice question here that his career in parliament has basically been ended.

00;35;59;16 - 00;36;25;21

He's decided to quit Parliament and indeed the Labor Party over the handling of his case. He'll be leaving at the next election and nobody actually knows what caused it. The nature of the allegations against him never been made public. And you do have to feel that this is a pretty uncomfortable way for a former chief whip to leave parliament, especially when in the normal run of things, former chief whips can expect to be translated to the House of Lords and don the ermine and take a role there.

00;36;25;21 - 00;36;45;03

But I suspect that's not going to happen in this case. We've talked on a previous episode about this whole question of standards and investigation of MPs who are accused of things. On the one hand, there's the parliamentary system, but there's also the party system and this is where the problems here arise, that it seems to be a party inquiry and nothing, as far as I can tell is has leaked out.

00;36;45;03 - 00;37;02;05

I mean, you know, you often sort of hear on the jungle drums at Westminster, you know, this is a case of why. Yeah. And, you know, nothing is being picked up. So Yeah. And he's he's clearly decided, you know, he's been in parliament for many years, but he's clearly decided these are enough on these off. So we'll have to wait for his memoirs.

00;37;02;05 - 00;37;22;08

And if Nick Brown does write his memoirs, I imagine they'll be pretty interesting. one thing I wanted to to flat out is we've not covered international legislation as much on the path so far, but there's some really interesting events in Poland. So, you know, following the recent general election, there's been a sort of a resurgence of interest in democracy, particularly amongst young people.

00;37;22;11 - 00;37;42;25

But you saw to see that in the number of people who are watching the parliamentary proceedings of the Polish parliament, the shame and, you know, decay in hundred thousand, 200,000 people watching it every day live proceedings. They've got 4 million views of this week's proceedings on Monday on YouTube, it sort of started to be called because they're starting to call it Jim Flicks.

00;37;42;28 - 00;38;05;00

And what was really striking was the deputy speaker of the of the Polish parliament. And I apologize to Polish listeners for my accent here. Christoph Bozek Deputy Speaker He actually answered a question from a viewer on YouTube via YouTube chat whilst he was in the chamber chairing proceedings. Now that's public engagement for you. That's what you call interactivity.

00;38;05;05 - 00;38;26;28

When I was back in the BBC a thousand years ago, one of the things that was very striking about the viewing figures for BBC Parliament was that they ticked up very sharply in the build up to the Iraq war, subsided a bit, but never subsided to their previous levels and then zoomed skywards when amongst other things we too were doing commentary on the life events of the Great Brexit controversies.

00;38;27;00 - 00;38;45;28

There are moments when attention is drawn to a Parliament, and sometimes when people start watching it, they find the process interesting enough to keep on watching, even when it's not flaming controversy. Yeah. Now to next week's events in Parliament, of which they don't seem to be all that many because there's two sitting days before honorable members and noble Lords break for Christmas.

00;38;45;28 - 00;39;10;10

And it looks like a pretty humdrum agenda. For the most part it is. I mean, so in terms of legislative business and debates, I mean, one thing to look out for is the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak's, up in front of the Liaison committee, which is the body of chairs of select committees. They're going to be questioning him. They sort of groups the questions into global affairs, economic issues, COP 28 and energy concerns.

00;39;10;11 - 00;39;33;25

Well, it takes action would certainly be interesting. But these sessions that started with Tony Blair way back in the day, so they've been going for nearly ten years now these sessions have very seldom really delivered. And there's always the expectation that one day there's going to be a gotcha moment where a sort of beaten prime minister, bruised and battered, sort of sits back in his chair and says it's a fair cop society to blame, I'm going to resign immediately.

00;39;34;00 - 00;39;53;17

That's never happened. Most prime ministers, I think, are pretty capable of fighting their corner in the kind of inquisition that they get at that liaison committee and the liaison committee members themselves, they stop looking for a gotcha moment. This is about scrutiny. It's not it's not intended as a sort of melodrama. Yeah, but they have, of course, been some remarkable occasions.

00;39;53;17 - 00;40;14;24

I mean, the surreal session when Boris Johnson on pretty much the last day of his premiership, was answering questions about his policy when the dogs in the street knew that he was going to be out in a matter of hours. That was a very, very strange session. So just occasionally there's something there and maybe one day that will be a day when a prime minister is absolutely in the eye of a storm and his backs to the wall to mix my metaphors furiously.

00;40;14;26 - 00;40;42;16

And those sessions will be really, really high drama. But it hasn't really happened yet. Now, one of the issues is, I think, the structure, because you've got you know, there's a lot of select committees. The chairs will want their say. They all want their opportunity so they don't focus on one particular angle. And once they sort of you know, got him on the ropes, it's then the switching to the next person in the in the queue for answering questions, whereas having just maybe one or two members asking the questions would allow for to keep the pressure on him.

00;40;42;19 - 00;40;59;17

They have actually managed to sharpen up the sessions quite a bit by deciding a bit more rigorously on the subject. I'm still by the time when Tony Blair was in front of the committee and all each of the select committee members, and this is all select committees at that stage, not a selection of them got the chance to ask.

00;40;59;19 - 00;41;21;06

Question And so you had some rigorous political controversy, and then it was the turn of Victorian people. David Tredinnick, who chaired the Catering Select committee, who was known to be a complete obsessive about homeopathic medicine, and Tony Blair was suddenly fielding questions about homeopathy with that wonderful, sort of slightly quizzical corner of the lip curl that he would do on occasions when he thought that the questions were actually a bit of paste.

00;41;21;08 - 00;41;40;22

That kind of thing doesn't happen anymore. They're much more rigorous about it these days. But even so, as you say, sometimes the buck is turn. System of questioning means that just when you think you're getting somewhere, it's time for someone else to have their moment. And just very briefly, before we finish the recall petition in Peter Bone's constituency of Wellingborough, the result will be out next week.

00;41;40;24 - 00;42;11;01

The general expectation of a by election to follow in that seat. Now, that was a Tony Blair landslide high watermark gained in 1997. If people remember an MP called Paul Winchcombe, who became one of the law officers who sat for Wellingborough until Peter Bone won in, I think 2005. But of course there's now the potential for another recall process because the Conservative MP Scot Benton has been given a swingeing sentence by or at least has had it recommended by the Common Standards Committee so we could well see another by election to follow in Blackpool South.

00;42;11;02 - 00;42;41;13

If again, there's a petition of his constituents and a recall is voted for there. Yeah. So watch this space. 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 and tell us more about the algorithm.

00;42;41;15 - 00;43;03;23

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 Hansard Society dot org dot UK slash pm UK-EU. We'll be discussing them in future episodes, including our special Urgent Questions editions dedicated to what you want to know about Parliament.

00;43;03;28 - 00;43;35;26

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 hands of society. Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit hansardsociety.org.uk/pm or find us on social media, @HansardSociety.

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