THE suspension of Parliament until October 14 – and also the failure of Boris Johnson to win the support of sufficient MPs to hold a snap election – will have been greeted with very weary resignation in Sheffield Hallam.
This is the Yorkshire constituency which has been virtually bereft of official representation since Jared O’Mara, the then Labour candidate, inflicted a shock defeat on Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister and ex-Lib Dem leader, at the 2017 election.
Councillors and local activists are trying to fill the void unofficially while Labour – the party that selected Mr O’Mara – appear to have absolved themselves of all responsibility despite ‘milking’ the victory at the time.
Despite MPs going out of their way to help Mr O’Mara come to terms with his responsibilities, as well as his mental health and disability, he has spoken in just three debates – the last being in October last year – and missed countless votes.
Hansard, the Parliamentary record, now shows that he last took part in a Commons division on April 3 – Mr O’Mara has certainly not been present for any of the six defeats inflicted on Boris Johnson since he became PM. He’s shut down his office on several occasions and been repeatedly accused of improper behaviour for a person of such standing.
The latest saw Mr O’Mara, now an Independent, promise to tender his resignation on September 3, the day of Parliament’s resumption, after his staff walked out. Yet he has still not done so. And with the Commons in abeyance, he can continue to claim his £79,468 salary – courtesy of the long-suffering taxpayer – without flouting any rules.
And while it might not be practical to hold such a poll when a general election appears to be imminent, Parliament clearly needs to look afresh at the ‘recall’ laws – ironically introduced by Mr O’Mara’s predecessor – which were intended to restore public trust and improve accountability.
At present, 10,000 voters can force a by-election if their MP is jailed, breached rules on expenses or been suspended from the Commons for 10 sitting days. It does not apply to absentee MPs – an absurd anomaly which now needs to be remedied.
IF it wasn’t for the scaffolding enveloping restoration work at the Palace of Westminster, Boris Johnson could have pulled down the shutters this week.
Even though Brexit is Britain’s biggest national crisis since the war, the controversial timing of the Government’s prorogation of Parliament means it is now suspended until October 14.
And while MPs and peers traditionally do not sit during the party conference season, prorogation means a new session cannot begin until a new Queen’s Speech in five weeks’ time.
Politicians can’t even meet in emergency session, for example to discuss Brexit developments, while, crucially, select committees cannot scrutinise Ministers – all while the country is none the wiser about the outcome of Brexit. It’s an outrage – enough for a large metaphorical tear to weep from the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square.
Mr Johnson says that he fears ‘permanent damage’ to political trust if Brexit is delayed beyond October 31 – an assertion that will be widely supported by Leave voters.
But he also risks ‘permanent damage’ to the standing of the Government – and the Tory party – if he presses ahead with a no-deal Brexit which causes undue harm to the economy, in part due to a lack of readiness on the UK’s part. As such, Mr Johnson’s best chance of avoiding a damaging departure from the EU is to negotiate a deal – if he wants one.
AMBER Rudd’s resignation interview with The Sunday Times inadvertently – or otherwise – revealed how Brexit is getting in the way of day-to-day decisions.
Her final act, as Work and Pensions Secretary, was to approve new rules which mean that 350,000 children with autism and attention deficit disorder will no longer have to undergo repeated assessments for benefits. .
The fact that Ms Rudd’s successor Thérèse Coffey is the seventh – yes, seventh – Work and Pensions Secretary in three-and-a-half years tells its own story. It’s no way to run a successful business, football team – or the Whitehall department charged with protecting society’s most vulnerable while trying to introduce and implement a reform as complicated as Universal Credit.
SYCOPHANT of the week is – once again – serial winner Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary, who backed Remain, supported Theresa May and then became one of Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexit disciples.
He will say or do anything – other than publish the social care Green Paper – to keep his ministerial pay and perks. Amid talk he might follow Amber Rudd out of the Cabinet door, he said that “other One Nation Tories will stay and fight for the values we share”.
Cue Philip Hammond, the ex-Chancellor, who observed: “Sorry Matt, I’m afraid the Conservative Party has been taken over by unelected advisers, entryists and usurpers who are trying to turn it from a broad church into an extreme right-wing faction. Sadly, it is not the party I joined.”
SIR GEOFFREY Boycott appeared genuinely taken aback when I contacted him on Monday afternoon about his knighthood in Theresa May’s resignation honours. Taken aback that it was public knowledge, he said: “I’ve not even told my wife because I was told it’s a secret.” Yet he was pleased that it is for “services to cricket” rather than the rhubarb industry – a reference to his batting masterclasses on Test Match Special.