It’s Business Questions in the House of Commons and I, like you, had half-expected a reasonable turnout of MPs wanting to discuss the economic and trade ramifications of the UK’s seismic decision days earlier to leave the European Union. Not a bit of it – there were just a smattering of backbench MPs waiting for the opportunity to quiz Business Secretary Sajid Javid and his team of Ministers on issues that are fundamental to the future prosperity of this country.
On three counts, the exchanges could not have been more disturbing to Parliamentary observers – and those householders rightly fearful of the future as they still pay the price for the last recession.
First, Labour could not even field a shadow Business Secretary following the resignation of Angela Eagle. A day previously, Clive Lewis, the newly-appointed shadow Defence Secretary, had been missing in action for Defence Questions because, wait for it, he was stuck at the Glastonbury Festival.
Second, Mr Javid – so culpable over the decline of the UK steel industry – was not even challenged on the consequences of Brexit for this under-valued sector of the Yorkshire economy.
Third, there was the near silence of Yorkshire MPs on the ramifications of Brexit, the honourable exception being Huddersfield’s Barry Sheerman who demanded “an emergency package to deal with the real concerns of the great exporters and innovators of this country”. Mr Javid’s response? A cursory round-table discussion with invited business leaders.
Yet there was not one question on the future of the Northern Powerhouse, or the proposed closure of the Sheffield regional office of the Department of Business, Industry and Skills, while backbenchers from the Midlands did – in contrast – muster sufficient numbers to ask a series of related questions on the fate of the East and West Midlands. If our MPs won’t speak up in Parliament at a time of crisis, who will?
Of course these are not normal times – David Cameron has resigned a year after becoming the first Tory leader to form a majority Conservative government since 1997 while Labour is not even a functioning Opposition under Jeremy Corbyn, never mind a government-in-waiting.
However, while both parties embark upon a summer of score-settling and navel-gazing after under-estimating the scale of the electorate’s disquiet with both the political establishment and the European Union, the public do not expect this to come at the expense of sound government and sounder opposition.
When Labour split in the early 1980s, paving the way for the SDP and the eventual emergence of today’s Lib Dems, it left Margaret Thatcher with two thumping 100-plus Commons majorities which were not always conducive to good government; namely the North’s industrial and manufacturing decline.
Conversely Tony Blair’s landslide victories brought about bad government, namely the Iraq invasion which will be centre-stage next week when the Chilcot inquiry is finally published.
That is why this week’s Business Questions, emblematic of this perfunctory Parliamentary week, and when MPs could not be bothered to listen to the Prime Minister’s summary of the EU summit, were so disturbing – Britain’s politics is so dysfunctional that it is no longer capable of acting in the public interest.
The sooner a new Prime Minister is elected, the better – each passing day makes the challenge facing David Cameron’s successor all the more invidious.
FOR those who prefer the talking points style of this column which has evolved over the years, rather than longer pieces, here are 10 random thoughts on the political tumult – and its consequences.
1. Pity the pro-EU Lib Dems. After seeing his party wiped out at the last election, I wonder what Nick Clegg makes of the outburst of support in favour of the European Union.
2. With nearly half of hospital A&E units not up to scratch following the latest Care Quality Commission inspections, why did Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt even consider a leadership challenge?
3. Now the French are even more unlikely to invest in the proposed new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point, where will Brexitland Britain gets its power from in future?
4. Another error by Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss – she endorsed Boris Johnson 24 hours before he pulled out of the Tory leadership race. Presumably she had been promised a promotion – for failing Yorkshire’s flooding victims last winter.
5. Who wears the trousers in Michael Gove’s household – the Justice Secretary or his wife Sarah Vine, who appears to have been plotting revenge against all and sundry?
6. George Osborne’s non-resignation is becoming clearer – the Chancellor’s new mission is to prevent Theresa May becoming PM because the Home Secretary stood up to him over police cuts.
7. On calling for Jeremy Corbyn to quit, Ed Miliband said: “I’m not a plotter.” If only he had not challenged his widely-respected brother David for the leadership in 2010, Labour might have won the last election – and Britain would still be in the EU.
8. Given Mr Corbyn can only count on the support of 40 MPs, is there a case for the Scottish Nationalists and their 54 MPs becoming the official opposition?
9. With the EU threatening to no longer conduct proceedings, or write documents, in English, are our schools geared up to teach pupils modern languages when so many children struggle to grasp basic literacy and numeracy skills?
10. If the next PM wants to win a popularity contest, please withdraw Britain from the Eurovision Song Contest freak show– and, while we’re at it, withdraw England from football tournaments until it has a team worthy of this country.
OF all the prospective Tory leaders, what does it say about the party when the most Northern of its five candidates is Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom who represents the safe seat of South Northamptonshire? The next PM should be the individual who can reach out to all parts of the country. For my money, Home Secretary Theresa May, dubbed the Ice Maiden, has the experience and stature that makes her the least worst option. That’s not good enough. She now has to show why she is Britain’s best bet for the future.