Jacob Rees-Mogg’s contempt for Parliament and lockdown – Tom Richmond

JACOB Rees-Mogg prides himself on being known as “the right honourable member for the 18th century” because of his old-fashioned mannerisms.

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg (left) ques to take part in a division on Tuesday.

The Commons leader proved it this week with his insistence that some traditions, like MPs being physically present to take part in debates and votes, were more important than public 

“We need proper debate. We need to be back. We need to have a proper, full-blooded democracy, and that is what we are getting,” he said after being left visibly riled by backbenchers.

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In this respect, I agree. Hybrid sittings have lacked passion. They’ve been diminished by the absence of interventions.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is Leader of the Commons.

Yet this does not excuse his contempt for those who were unable to attend Tuesday’s vote – ironically about how to vote – because of their age or underlying health concerns.

They – and their constituents – have effectively been disenfranchised as a result of the creation of a two-tier Parliament which now divides and rules on health grounds.

“Nobody is banned from attending Parliament by law. The ancient right of MPs, which dates back to 1340, entitles Members to attend,” Mr Rees-Mogg insisted.

And he was not deterred when opponents alluded to the importance of self-isolation. “No law exists that stops Members from attending Parliament,” he added.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (left) during Tuesday's chaotic votes at Parliament.

Yet a law does apply. It’s called common sense. However Mr Rees-Mogg’s ineptness meant MPs having to queue for up to 45 minutes, many in close proximity to each other, before they were able to walk through the Commons chamber and say either ‘Aye’ or ‘No’. How ridiculous. And this is how future votes will be conducted.

No doubt, Mr Rees-Mogg calls it a triumph. But it turned the greatest Parliament of all into a laughing stock when the order went out to ‘lock’ the Commons doors before many MPs had reached the front of the queue.

Chaotic and undemocratic, Mr Rees-Mogg’s cavalier approach probably breached Covid health and safety rules on social distancing and set a rotten example to employers trying to make their workplaces fit for purpose for staff.

It was little surprise, therefore, when Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, was taken ill the next day with suspected Covid-19. He had to keep wiping his brow but has, thankfully, received the all clear.

But there’s another point. The long queues around Parliament simply created the impression that MPs have time to waste when they do not.

If there was electronic voting, they could continue their constituency work – and other business – without this pantomime performance.

And the only reason, I guess, why there’s so much resistance is because someone would have to teach Jacob Rees-Mogg how to switch on a computer or mobile device because he’s now that out of date...and touch.

INSTEAD of Ministers becoming rattled by the criticism of people like Alastair Campbell, perhaps they should actually hire Tony Blair’s communications chief.

Why? He’s been using his blog to critique the responses that Tory MPs have been sending constituents who have written to them about the lockdown trip that Boris Johnson’s chief aide Dominic Cummings made to Durham.

As well as the grammatical howlers, and there have been many, there’s been an absence of empathy in many responses – a letter in the name of Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock did not acknowledge a constituent’s grief over the loss of their loved ones to Covid.

Delegating such duties to staff, says Mr Campbell, is no excuse if the letter is going out in the name of the Minister or MP. He also condemned ‘cut and paste’ responses.

But, equally, he praised those – like Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith – whose letters hit the right mark.

Perhaps all new MPs do need lessons, as part of any induction, on the art of writing an effective letter on behalf of constituents.

And responding, too, in a timely, courteous and respectful manner.

FAILURES of communication appear to be a recurring theme.

If you want evidence of the public’s frustration over the Government’s response to Covid-19, look at the tweet posted by Hull tailors Cock of the Walk which has been manufacturing PPE equipment.

“Today we finally received a reply from the Government portal in reference to our application to make PPE 10 weeks ago,” it posted. They then thanked local MPs Diana Johnson and Emma Hardy for “getting it sorted seven weeks sooner”.

The Government clearly needs to better communicate with those keen to offer their expertise – and goodwill.

THE outgoing Archbishop of York was in a jocular mood when posing for farewell photographs.

Asked to show his ‘good side’, Dr John Sentamu quipped: “He’s shy.” That’s a first from an Archbishop who has been a genuine man of the people over the past 15 years.

But it was an honour to be asked by Betty Boothroyd, the former Speaker, to pass on her best wishes to Dr Sentamu.

His face lit up. “She and I always tend to speak from the same side. No nonsense,” says the 70-year-old who will also be taking his leave of the House of Lords unless a life peerage is conferred in a future honours list.

It should be. His wisdom, particularly on issues pertaining to inequality, have enhanced debates. And it would afford him, as a cross-bench peer, a platform to pursue causes that remain so dear to him – including, dare I say it, One Yorkshire.

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