Isabel Hardman

Two lessons from the Commons aid revolt

Two lessons from the Commons aid revolt
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The Speaker's decision to rule out an amendment which would have forced a vote on international aid cuts tells us a number of important things about the current situation in Westminster.

The first is of course that Lindsay Hoyle is not John Bercow, who was prepared to ride roughshod over the advice of the clerks and convention in order to manufacture certain political confrontations and drama. Indeed, the Speaker today very pointedly opened his statement on the amendment by saying 'I respect and trust the advice from clerks in this House'. Hoyle made clear when he campaigned to be Speaker that he wanted to stop some of the games that Bercow had been playing, and that parliament deserved more respect.

That is why it is not correct in any way to see his ruling today as being helpful to the government. He made clear that the 'House has not had an opportunity for a decisive vote', adding that 'I share the House's frustration' and that 'this House should not continue to be taken for granted'. The Speaker said that he would also, in these exceptional circumstances, allow for an emergency debate tomorrow using standing order 24 so that the House could express its view. SO24 debates don't conclude with a binding vote, so Hoyle added that the government should give MPs a proper vote.

His emphasis on playing by the rules, even when he feels that the Commons is being mistreated by the government, makes it much harder for ministers to then complain about the Speaker constructing an agenda against them. It makes it much harder for ministers to avoid a substantive vote on international development spending precisely because the Speaker is sticking to his rules so therefore their desire to avoid sticking to convention on changing legislation without any vote in the Commons becomes all the more obviously disrespectful to the House. 

This is the second important lesson: by trying to avoid a confrontation, ministers are merely making the prospect of a big defeat for the government worse because if there is one thing that can unite the House like nothing else, it's the feeling that MPs are in some way being tricked out of having their say. Andrew Mitchell, the leading rebel on this matter, is already applying for the debate. That means that while the G7 summit is going on, parliament will be venting its spleen about cuts to international development spending, which is hardly a good look for the government when it is trying to underline its 'global Britain' pitch.

Even if the electorate is broadly happy with the aid cuts, they still have political potency in an international setting: something the rebels hope will lead ministers to at least commit to this cut only lasting for a year.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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