This episode was entitled ‘Party games’, and I was expecting some serious discussion on whether Westminster politics is irrevocably moving towards a multi-party system, plus scrutiny of how the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have been working together in coalition. On this point the programme failed to deliver, instead spending time on bizarre things like the threat of pigeons to the building, and views from the scaffolding erected to repair the iron-clad roof.
But there was one area where it went into great detail: the question of Europe, showing its effects through the rebellions within the Conservative party and the rise of UKIP. Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle in summer 2014 is portrayed as a direct reaction to UKIP’s success in the European elections, with Michael Gove, a passionate Eurosceptic, becoming Chief Whip whilst Ken Clarke gets the chop. Likewise, Eurosceptic Philip Hammond replaces William Hague as Foreign Secretary.
In August 2014, Douglas Carswell resigns as a Conservative MP and defects to UKIP; four weeks later, Mark Reckless follows suit. Conservative backbencher and thorn in the side of the government, Peter Bone, appears on Have I Got News For You, perhaps to stir up further rumours of rebellions and rattle the party faithful. On 13th October, Carswell is elected as the first UKIP MP, and says he feels ‘invigorated’. The following month, Mark Reckless is sworn in.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are shown as struggling over the issue of the European Arrest Warrant, which David Cameron had promised a vote on, but which wasn’t listed separately as a point for debate. Instead MPs had to vote on the whole package of measures. The government narrowly saw off an opposition motion to throw out the whole agenda, with the Prime Minister having to rush back from the Lord Mayor’s Banquet to be in time for an unexpected vote. They secured a majority of 43 votes, and the raft of measures, including the EAW, was accepted. But backbench Conservative MPs were shown as more stung than ever by the experience: Jacob Rees Mogg objected to the fact that Parliamentary procedures had not been followed correctly, Sir Richard Shepherd said the episode was symptomatic of the ‘growth of executive arrogance’ shown by the government, and Peter Bone surmised ‘democracy lost, and the government won’.
The other main parties were represented quite separately and by a lone MP each. Jenny Willott, a Liberal Democrat MP, was shown at the start of the programme in her role as a government whip. By the end of the programme she had resigned from this position, because whips are not permitted to speak in the chamber, and she wanted to join in Commons debates ahead of what she knows will be a tough re-election campaign in May 2015. She is able to leave her young children in the House of Commons nursery during the day, but it showed the struggle to implement consistency in routine, family mealtimes etc. given that votes are often in the evening, sometimes at 10 p.m.
Labour MP Steve Rotheram was shown campaigning on the issue of tyre safety, reading his Ten Minute Rule Bill out on the floor of the Commons and meeting with those who had been directly affected by road accidents caused by 20-year-old tyres. He was simultaneously raising the issue in Brussels, but didn’t manage to get anything on the EU agenda. It’s unlikely that his Bill will have time to progress into law during this Parliament, but he was happy to have raised awareness on the issue and drafted something that is ready to become law in the future. It was an interesting thread, but I felt this would have belonged better to the second episode, which was directly discussing backbench legislation.
Best quote of the programme goes to narrator Michael Cockerell for his description of: “the proudly traditional Jacob Rees Mogg; sometimes known as the member for the 18th century.”