This Parliamentary farce reveals how much our political class has been infantilised

I expected a Leave victory to be a profound shock and challenge to politicians. They have struggled to adapt even more than I anticipated.

I expected a Leave victory to come as a severe shock, and a fundamental psychological as well as political challenge, to many people in Westminster. The prospect of millions of voters bluntly intruding on an echo chamber, to overturn what some had assumed to be a permanent consensus so obviously correct that it was mad to even question it, was never going to be easy.

So I never thought that accepting the outcome, adapting to it, implementing it and then moving beyond it would be simple or brief, particularly for the MPs who would have to actually put it into practice. It would produce grief, and rage, and at worst those emotions would be made flesh in abuse targeted at voters and attempts to obstruct Brexit. Even at best, we would still have to go through a discomforting period in which we discovered the degree to which the Parliamentary establishment had been infantilised by years of giving away Westminster’s powers.

Even I did not anticipate the severity of the problems which a Leave vote would expose, however. Just look at the state Parliament is in.

A Speaker who ignores the conventions of the House when it suits him, then refuses arbitrarily to table amendments he dislikes. Ministers who disobey three-line whips, but expect to retain office. A Secretary of State summing up in favour of a motion, then voting against it. A Prime Minister who promises the House and the nation something more than 50 times then proposes the opposite. A Commons that votes to trigger a timed and definite Article 50 process, then spends much of the period in question bemoaning the possibility of its own decision coming to pass. A House of Lords which disregards its constitutional limits to prioritise its own desires. Politicians who vote to hold a referendum, then pledge to honour its outcome, only to campaign ardently to run it all again – and who then won’t vote to do so when their own proposal comes before the Commons. The term “meaningful vote” being coined, then applied to votes which can be – and are – ignored and run repeatedly.

And that’s just the last few weeks. The wider picture of Parliamentary politics is little better. The Government’s mishandling of the EU negotiations, the Opposition’s endlessly shifting view of what it supposedly wants to happen, radical independents striking out for more democracy while refusing to hold by-elections, Eurosceptics blundering from one strategic mis-step to another…

All the while, the citizens who combined to deliver the biggest vote for anything in our nation’s history are left wondering why it is so hard simply to keep a promise.

They might, as some have suggested, take their votes elsewhere, potentially even to troubling and extreme opportunists, but the real tragedy is that many may simply give up voting. It breaks my heart to think of the people on whose doors I knocked, who told me there was no point voting – that politicians would never listen, and would never allow the electorate to get what they wanted rather than what MPs believed they needed. I argued that voting counted in our country, that if enough people voted then Westminster would have to listen. And yet now, years later, many MPs are still doing their level best to avoid doing so, and others who at least want to keep their promises are nonetheless failing to get the job done.

The more desperately politicians thrash and kick, and twist and bend, in the desperate hope of getting what they want, and damn honour, voters or consequences, the more harm they do to the fabric and reputation of our democracy. Some cannot see that, which is bad enough, but some surely can and do not care, which is far worse.

The continuity Remain response to this, of course, is that we should cancel Brexit. That due to the damage threatened by their insistence that they must get what they want at all costs, they should…get what they want. How much easier, they argue, to simply creep back under the EU’s wing, where all these troubling questions and shameful shortfalls would never have to be considered again.

That isn’t a serious or viable answer. Ignoring problems does not make them go away, it simply allows them to fester out of sight. Anyone who saw the rise of anti-politics in the decade preceding the referendum, and then the outcome of the referendum result itself, should realise that stripping Westminster of responsibilities has deepened rather than banished popular dissatisfaction with sub-par Members of Parliament. The more you treat people – MPs included – like children, the more they will act childishly..

The Leave vote was the first true increase in responsibility for British Parliamentarians in at least 40 years. It has proved to be a bigger shock to their system than many people expected, and many of our politicians – and the structures around them – have struggled to adapt to it. I suspect that few people, beyond perhaps Dominic Cummings, had realised how far things had declined.

None of this amounts to a case against democratic self-government. If anything, it shows the consequences of releasing a political class from many of the demands and challenges of proper responsibility and accountability. If you started a diet and a workout regime, but found out you weighed more and were more out of shape than you had thought, that wouldn’t be a reason to give up – it would be a reason to knuckle down and work harder. If our politics is struggling to adapt, we must find out why, and set it right.

The 113 Conservative MPs who voted for May’s motion to extend Article 50

Gove and Davis followed the Prime Minister, but they were heavily outnumbered in the Parliamentary Conservative Party. The Chief Whip abstained.

Including tellers, 113 Conservative MPs voted for the Prime Minister’s motion to extend Article 50 and delay Brexit this evening – despite Theresa May promising an exit on 29th March more than 50 times. They were heavily outnumbered within their own Party: 190 Conservative MPs opposed extension, and in our survey over 77 per cent of Conservative members wanted MPs to vote against. The Chief Whip abstained, while Alun Cairns abstained by voting in both lobbies.

Here is the full list of those who backed May’s motion:

  • Bim Afolami
  • Peter Aldous
  • Edward Argar
  • Victoria Atkins
  • Richard Benyon
  • Paul Beresford
  • Nick Boles
  • Peter Bottomley
  • Andrew Bowie
  • Karen Bradley

 

  • Steve Brine
  • James Brokenshire
  • Robert Buckland
  • Alistair Burt
  • James Cartlidge
  • Alex Chalk
  • Greg Clark
  • Kenneth Clarke
  • Therese Coffey
  • Alberto Costa

 

  • Geoffrey Cox
  • Stephen Crabb
  • David Davis
  • Jonathan Djanogly
  • Oliver Dowden
  • David Duguid
  • Alan Duncan
  • Philip Dunne
  • Tobias Ellwood
  • Mark Field

 

  • Vicky Ford
  • Luzy Frazer
  • George Freeman
  • Mike Freer (teller)
  • Roger Gale
  • Mark Garnier
  • David Gauke
  • Nick Gibb
  • Cheryl Gillan
  • Robert Goodwill

 

  • Michael Gove
  • Luke Graham
  • Richard Graham
  • Bill Grant
  • Damian Green
  • Justine Greening
  • Dominic Grieve
  • Sam Gyimah
  • Philip Hammond
  • Stephen Hammond

 

  • Matt Hancock
  • Richard Harrington
  • Oliver Heald
  • Peter Heaton-Jones
  • Nick Herbert
  • Damian Hinds
  • Simon Hoare
  • George Hollingbery
  • Kevin Hollinrake
  • John Howell

 

  • Jeremy Hunt
  • Nick Hurd
  • Alister Jack (teller)
  • Margot James
  • Sajid Javid
  • Jo Johnson
  • Andrew Jones
  • Gillian Keegan
  • Seema Kennedy
  • Stephen Kerr

 

  • Mark Lancaster
  • Jeremy Lefroy
  • Oliver Letwin
  • Brandon Lewis
  • David Lidington
  • Paul Masterton
  • Theresa May
  • Patrick McLoughlin
  • Maria Miller
  • Anne Milton

 

  • Andrew Mitchell
  • Nicky Morgan
  • David Mundell
  • Bob Neill
  • Sarah Newton
  • Caroline Nokes
  • Neil Parish
  • Mark Pawsey
  • John Penrose
  • Claire Perry

 

  • Dan Poulter
  • Rebecca Pow
  • Victoria Prentis
  • Jeremy Quin
  • Amber Rudd
  • David Rutley
  • Antoinette Sandbach
  • Bob Seely
  • Alok Sharma
  • Alec Shelbrooke

 

  • Keith Simpson
  • Nicholas Soames
  • Caroline Spelman
  • John Stevenson
  • Rory Stewart
  • Gary Streeter
  • Mel Stride
  • Hugo Swire
  • Justin Tomlinson
  • David Tredinnick

 

  • Edward Vaizey
  • Robin Walker
  • Jeremy Wright

The six Labour MPs who voted against the Benn amendment

The amendment was seen off by 314-312, so the six votes from the Opposition benches made all the difference.

In the end, Hilary Benn’s amendment was seen off by a narrow margin – 314 to 312. In that mix were six Labour MPs who voted against it:

  • Kevin Barron
  • Ronnie Campbell
  • Caroline Flint
  • Kate Hoey
  • John Mann

 

  • Graham Stringer

The 39 Conservative MPs who switched from opposing the Withdrawal Agreement to supporting it

Philip Davies, a famously long-standing and committed Brexiteer, is among their number.

Below is the full list of the 39 Conservative MPs who voted against the Prime Minister’s deal in January, but voted for it tonight.

It’s an indication of the remarkable debate underway among Leavers at the moment over the pros and cons of accepting or rejecting the deal that Philip Davies, such a long-standing Brexiteer that back in 2005 he became the only MP in the House of Commons to publicly support the UK leaving the EU, is among their number:

  • Sir David Amess
  • Bob Blackman
  • Ben Bradley
  • Sir Graham Brady
  • Fiona Bruce
  • Maria Caulfield
  • Tracey Crouch
  • Philip Davies
  • David Davis
  • Nadine Dorries

 

  • Steve Double
  • Nigel Evans
  • Sir David Evennett
  • Zac Goldsmith
  • Robert Halfon
  • Greg Hands
  • John Hayes
  • Sir Greg Knight
  • John Lamont
  • Tim Loughton

 

  • Scott Mann
  • Stephen McPartland
  • Johnny Mercer
  • Stephen Metcalfe
  • Nigel Mills
  • Andrew Mitchell
  • Damien Moore
  • Matthew Offord
  • Sir Mike Penning
  • Mark Pritchard

 

  • Will Quince
  • Julian Sturdy
  • Sir Hugo Swire
  • Sir Robert Syms
  • Derek Thomas
  • Martin Vickers
  • Giles Watling
  • Bill Wiggin
  • William Wragg

Cox “endorses” the pro-Leave National Convention motion at his local Conservative Association AGM

The Attorney General did not vote on the proposal, but also told assembled members he was “happy to commend it to his colleagues”.

The week before last, ConservativeHome suggested that Conservative Associations should pass locally the National Convention’s pro-Leave motion. Despite the apparent efforts of the Party hierarchy to deter associations from even accepting it for discussion, it seems a growing number of associations are indeed adding it to their AGM agendas, and thereby debating then passing it.

This afternoon we have published an initial list of associations which have successfully done so, which we will update as and when more do so.

Observant readers will spot that one of the first five is Torridge and West Devon, the local association of Geoffrey Cox, the man currently charged with trying to secure sufficient improvements to the Withdrawal Agreement to gain it the approval of the House of Commons.

Given his role, Cox did not vote on the motion either way at his local party’s AGM over the weekend. However, a source in the room tells me that prior to the vote the Attorney General did “endorse” the motion, and after its approval he told the assembled Conservative members that he was “happy to commend it to his colleagues”.

As a reminder, here is the motion in full:

“The National Convention supports the commitments the Prime Minister has made to the country to honour the European Union referendum result of 2016, that having triggered Article 50 we will leave the European Union on the 29 March 2019.

“Another referendum, a delay beyond the European elections, taking ‘no deal’ off the table or not leaving at all would betray the 2016 People’s Vote and damage democracy and our party for a generation.”

Elena Bunbury: The sexist thinking behind shaming MPs into following women on Twitter

A patronising media investigation highlights a deeply warped perspective on what gender equality really means.

Elena Bunbury is a Conservative councillor and Head of Communications for 1828. 

Not that long ago, scrolling through Facebook and stumbling across posts saying that “one like equals one prayer” for whichever random illness or crisis happened to feature that day was the norm – and, to some extent, it still is.

The recent Times investigation commenting on which MPs follow the least women feels like it’s following a similar theme: “click a button from behind a screen and you can solve gender inequality!”

The focus of the investigation seems to centre around the principle that you can only support women and strive for equality if you follow enough women on Twitter. If you fail to meet the quota allotted to you and your position in society, there’s only one explanation: you’re a raging misogynist.

Recently, International Women’s Day has given a spotlight to many vital campaigns, such as the fantastic work Nimco Ali has done for female genital mutilation, the drive to encourage women into STEM subjects, and a variety of other issues. In comparison to these fantastic women and their incredible campaigns, quibbling about how many women male MPs follow seems, frankly, ridiculous.

Twitter, as a platform, is not the most productive for a wholesome debate. Generally, it’s used for sharing memes, spreading abuse, and trying to get seen by celebrities – not for tackling issues that have been raised by International Women’s Day and the wider feminist movement.

The Times article has put forward the view that not following a majority of women shows a lack of respect and a lack of willingness to support women in the political field. But I entirely disagree with that.

When scrolling through Twitter, gender balance isn’t at the forefront of my mind. If someone posts good, funny tweets, I’ll follow them. If they don’t, I won’t. I am 99 per cent sure that none of those listed within the Times article are sexist MPs who actively avoid women, they probably didn’t even realise the ratio themselves. That is because it simply does not matter.

I’m confident that most people reading this will be – and think – the same. We’ll follow people we associate with and stumble across. It’s a bizarre concept to demand members of parliament sift through their “following” list with a fine tooth comb thinking: “ah, I really enjoy his tweets – but he doesn’t quite fit into my gender quota.”

Twitter is a free platform where no one is obligated to meet quotas or forced to follow people who do not interest them. So, why has the referenced article even been written? The answer is because it’s just another virtue-signalling opportunity to make MPs look bad and patronise women even further than they already are.

MP accounts are mainly based around the local fair they’ve visited that week, or the petition that is being launched about car parking within their constituency. So, why would someone follow them unless the issues directly affected them?

Instead of the virtue signalling displayed, the Times should have spent their time researching what work the listed MPs have done to support women. Numerous MPs mentioned have spoken in debates supporting women and the issues raised by International Women’s Day, and held surgeries supporting women within their constituency. Why does the Times care who they’re following on Twitter?

Finally, as a woman, I find it offensive that people are being forcibly shamed and pressured to follow women on social media. Not because they are interested in their individual platforms, but just to have a better image. People need to stop treating women as the lesser gender which constantly need extra help, attention, and special dispensations – and start treating them as individuals with their own merits.

I don’t think that the MPs listed in the article are sexists. I think this pretentious investigation by the Times is.

Chloe Westley: Why should MPs get a pay rise when they won’t keep their promises to the people?

There are some brilliant MPs, who go above and beyond. But the majority have hardly covered themselves in glory over Brexit.

Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Last week it was announced that MPs will all be receiving a pay rise of 2.7 per cent, which means they would now be classified among ‘the richest’ by Labour’s calculations. Naturally, the TaxPayers’ Alliance was first on the scene to criticise IPSA for being woefully out of touch with the public.

Of course, it must be said that there are some brilliant MPs across the political spectrum, who go above and beyond for their constituents. But I would hardly say that the majority have covered themselves in glory over Brexit. In the same week that it was announced that all MPs in Westminster would be receiving a pay rise, both the Labour and Conservative front benches rescinded on their election pledges on Brexit.

Manifesto commitments have been broken on both sides. Jeremy Corbyn knew that the majority of voters wouldn’t accept a second referendum, so he ruled this out resolutely at the 2017 General Election. But now, he is whole-heartedly behind a second referendum. Theresa May knew that the popularity of her party relied very much on the perception that the Conservatives were the party of Brexit, and could be trusted to deliver a hard Brexit. That is why the Conservative manifesto committed to taking Britain out of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union.

Leave voters are being completely ignored by the majority of Westminster. For every noble defence of democracy in the Commons, there are several other condescending calls for another referendum because “people didn’t know what they were voting for”.

Many of these politicians now calling for a second referendum were elected on the platform of delivering Brexit. For example, Dominic Grieve told his constituents that they should vote for him because he would help the Prime Minister to deliver Brexit. In his election address, Grieve wrote that “As someone who has always advocated a close relationship between the UK and the European Union, I accept the result of the 2016 Referendum.” But now he is leading the charge to stop Brexit, declaring this week that Leave voters had “been thoroughly misled over a long period by a form of propaganda that believes that the EU is evil”.

Sarah Wollaston told one constituent before the election that she “promised to respect the outcome” of the EU referendum. On her website she told constituents before the election that “Theresa May has confirmed that the Government will not seek to be in the Single Market. She has also been clear that no deal is better than a bad deal.” At a local election hustings she said that we “must accept the result” of the EU referendum. Dr Wollaston is now proudly campaigning for a second referendum.

Heidi Allen passionately told her constituents at an election hustings that “we have to respect the result” and also tweeted: “I was a remainer, but the EU ref result is final and cannot be rerun.” Allen now says that we need to “check with the British people” and have a second referendum.

Before the election Amber Rudd told her constituents, who voted by a majority to leave the EU, that only a Conservative government “will deliver the Brexit deal that Britain needs to prosper in the years ahead” and also declared to the nation that she was consistent about “respecting the result of the referendum”. Rudd now claims that there is a “plausible argument” for a second referendum.

In addition to these personal commitments, every Conservative MP ran on a manifesto which committed to taking Britain out of the Single Market and Customs Union, and also backing the Prime Minister’s assertion that No Deal is better than a bad deal. These campaign pledges weren’t hidden in the back of the manifesto, or added as a footnote. They were highlighted again and again by the Prime Minister and central to the national campaign.

As someone who was leafleting for the Conservative Party in 2017, I’m astounded that so many Conservative MPs (and now, I suppose, ‘Independent’ MPs) seem to have forgotten what they promised constituents on the doorstep.

By misleading voters about their intention to respect the result of the EU referendum, these MPs betrayed more than just their constituents. They are part of an anti-Brexit movement which is causing irrevocable damage to trust in British politics.

There are many Brits asking themselves: why should I give a third of my income to people who won’t allow me any say in how that money is spent?

We are moving towards a system of taxation without representation. Voters and taxpayers are told to just shut up and do what they’re told. Citizens are reprimanded by their representatives for committing the thoughtcrime of euroscepticism. How dare taxpayers demand more say over how their money is spent, and how their country is run!

Of course it would not be possible to directly devolve decision making to individuals on all matters of state. But on an issue as fundamental as the governance of the nation, politicians cannot say one thing during an election and another when in office.

I don’t think MPs who say they’ll deliver Brexit to get votes in an election, and then do the complete opposite when elected, should be rewarded with a pay rise.

May responds: “I am saddened… But by delivering on our manifesto commitment we are doing the right thing for our country.”

“I am determined that under my leadership the Conservative Party will always offer the decent, moderate and patriotic politics that the people of this country deserve.”

Following the resignation of Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, the Prime Minister has responded with a statement more in sorrow than in anger:

“I am saddened by this decision – these are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it.

“Of course, the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time. Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy.

“But by delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country. And in doing so, we can move forward together towards a brighter future.”

“I am determined that under my leadership the Conservative Party will always offer the decent, moderate and patriotic politics that the people of this country deserve.”

Full resignation letter: “We no longer feel we can remain in the Party…so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP.”

“There is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative Party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes.”

This is the full text of this morning’s letter from the three former Conservative MPs to the Prime Minister:

Dear Prime Minister,

It is with regret that we are writing to resign the Conservative whip and our membership of the Party. We voted for you as Leader and Prime Minister because we believed you were committed to a moderate, open-hearted Conservative Party in the One Nation tradition. A party of economic competence, representing the best of British business, delivering good jobs, opportunity and prosperity for all, funding world class public services and tackling inequalities. We had hoped you would also continue to modernise our party so that it could reach out and broaden its appeal to younger voters and to embrace and reflect the diversity of the communities we seek to represent.

Sadly, the Conservative Party has increasingly abandoned these principles and values with a shift to the right of British Politics. We no longer feel we can remain in the Party of a Government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP.

Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hard line ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, publicly and privately funded with its own leader, whip and policy. This shift to the right has been exacerbated by blatant entryism. Not only has this been tolerated, it has been actively welcomed in some quarters. A purple momentum is subsuming the Conservative Party, much as the hard left has been allowed to consume and terminally undermine the Labour Party.

We have tried consistently and for some time to keep the Party close to the centre ground of British politics. You assured us when you first sought the leadership that this was your intention. We haven’t changed, the Conservative Party has and it no longer reflects the values and beliefs we share with millions of people throughout the United Kingdom. The final straw for us has been this government’s disastrous handling of Brexit.

We find it unconscionable that a Party once trusted on the economy, more than any other, is now recklessly marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal. No responsible government should knowingly and deliberately inflict the dire consequences of such a destructive exit on individuals, communities and businesses and put at risk the prospect of ending austerity.

We also reject the false binary choice that you have presented to Parliament between a bad deal and no deal. Running down the clock to March 29th amounts to a policy of no deal and we are not prepared to wait until our toes are at the edge of the cliff.

We can no longer act as bystanders.

We intend to sit as independents alongside The Independent Group of MPs in the centre ground of British politics. There will be times when we will support the Government, for example, on measures to strengthen our economy, security, and improve our public services. But we now feel honour bound to put our constituents’ and country’s interests first.

We would like to thank all those who have supported us and worked alongside us within our constituencies over many years. We genuinely wish our many friends and colleagues within the Party well, indeed we know many of them share our concerns.

We will continue to work constructively, locally and nationally, on behalf of our constituents.

However, the country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative Party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.

Yours sincerely,

Heidi Allen MP

Rt Hon Anna Soubry MP

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP