Within hours of the general election Whitehall started making new MPs irrelevant. Even before the new parliament has heard the Queen’s Speech, Whitehall has begun to treat the legitimate and elected part of our political settlement with contempt by abolishing an effective part of parliamentary scrutiny, the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee. New MPs will of course know of the battle between parties, but there is also an historic, never ending democratic battle – regardless of party – between the executive (government) and legislature (parliament). It is an uneven battle which – while not covered in new MPs’ induction packs – those who think beyond the tribal will soon become familiar with. It often transcends partisanship since all parties who aspire to run government also conspire to control parliament. This forces MPs into difficult choices as either parliamentarians who want to defend and extend our democracy or party representatives made to vote for leaderships that see only Whitehall power.
Government have taken in their first week their immediate opportunity to use their control over parliament to weaken its ability to hold them to account. In which other democracy are the institutions of those who hold government to account controlled by those who are to be held accountable? Key Whitehall officials who set Parliament’s agenda have been preparing for this moment from well before the election. They are the most powerful people in Parliament ,yet the most anonymous and beyond any democratic scrutiny. Led by Roy Stone, Private Secretary to the Chief Whip and Mike Winter, Head of the Leader of the House’s office, they operate in the dark, agents of the secret state of the most over-centralised political system in the Western world without so much as a Parliamentary Business Committee (promised but not delivered by the last government) to hold them to account. Even as our politics is in such disrepute, those who run the system are on auto pilot, not governed effectively by ministers, not challenged to think afresh to save our democracy from further erosion, just business as usual. The benefit of a five year parliament is that it can take the time now to get law right, to have proper engagement, to timetable helpful pre and post legislative scrutiny. However old habits die hard and ramming reflex drafts through parliament is what they have always done so why change now even though there is the opportunity to do so. It is just too easy, too tempting to carry on as before oblivious to, and dislocated from, the frustrations of the electorate.