Wednesday, 6 January 2016

On reshuffling and rushing

There has been much speculation about the results of the reshuffle of Jeremy Corbyn's Shadow Cabinet, which resulted in the sacking of Michael Dugher as Shadow Minister for Culture, and also Pat McFadden. This in turn caused the resignations of Kevan Jones, Stephen Doughty, and Jonathan Reynolds from the Shadow Cabinet in protest at these two sackings.

It must be pointed out that the Conservatives have been no better than Labour, and in fact often worse, in terms of cabinet reshuffling or choice of cabinet ministers. In particular, Michael Gove's incompetence on so many levels means he has no business being in the cabinet at all, let alone as Justice Secretary (and I thought before that appointment Chris Grayling was the worst Justice Secretary Britain has had in living memory). Liz Truss, the current Environment Secretary, has no more respect for the environment than Owen Paterson ever did and the two worst Conservatives in the cabinet by far, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, are still there from the time of their initial appointments back in 2010.

Whilst there was talk of the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, the Conservatives were pushing through their dangerous Housing and Planning Bill, which will end lifelong social housing tenancies if passed and instead limit them to five years. This could mean an end to social housing in Britain as we know it and accelerate social cleansing, particularly in cities. It could also privatise planning applications and extend the right to buy to  which could have serious consequences for communities. Notably, a list of amendments was pushed through at 3 am in the morning simply because the Conservatives refused to move the debate at a more reasonable time.

These two stories alone also expose fundamental flaws with our current system of passing legislation, and of the balance of executive, legislative and judicial power within the UK. Due to the powers Secretaries of State have in practice (e.g. due to statutory instruments which can be implemented without proper debate within Parliament), this gives party leaders and whips unfairly high levels of power over policy-making when it really matters. Many Cabinet ministers are also often chosen (and allowed to remain for too long) due to prior connections or friendships with their party's leadership rather than strong competence in the field they are supposed to be minister for. They can also be sacked simply for holding differing opinions on some issues. Also, few if any MPs are willing to be awake in the early hours of the morning for legislative debates-they are just human, after all, and therefore diurnal in the same way you and I are.

I therefore believe it is time that the Cabinet system as a whole within Parliament should be scrapped, and that necessary executive functions should be performed by multi-member committees elected by Parliament as a whole (although with somewhat reduced levels of power so that they cannot just override the legislature) similar to committee arrangements that exist on some local councils within the UK; this will be particularly important if there are future coalition governments of some type in the UK. There should also be changes to standing orders to the way Parliamentary business runs regarding legislation and debates, not just to stop filibustering and also blocking of private members' bills, by just a few government-backed MPs, but also to make sure debates cannot just be held at early hours in the morning or so late at night.

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