A flight of seasoned political practitioners will hamper the running of Britain’s Parliament.
After securing a hard-fought general election, the House of Commons is set to lose over 1000 years of parliamentary experience. Phillip Hammond was the most recent of more than 60 resignations, twice the number of stand-downs which preceded the 2017 snap election. In a letter to constituents, the former Chancellor attributed the decision to his recent excommunication from the Conservative Party, in response to the support he and 20 colleagues lent to the Benn Act. Internal party machinations aside, the number of MPs who have denounced a toxic parliamentary environment in their letters of resignation is cause for alarm. From Ken Clarke to Louise Ellman, what exactly does the flight of experience from across the party-political spectrum portend for the future of Britain’s politics?
Isabel Hardman’s Why We Get the Wrong Politicians is, in more ways than one, a timely read. Leafing through the book’s closing chapters, the reader is left with a strong impression of the value of political experience to the smooth(ish) running of the parliamentary machine. Seasoned MPs, well-versed in process, are uniquely placed to decipher dense legislation and discern mistakes. Their longevity also militates against repetition: ensuring that the seemingly novel piece of legislation proffered by a fresh face embodies more than a mere repackaging of the failed policy of a previous government. The supplanting of the longest-serving legislative critics by new blood, one of few certain outcomes of December’s vote, will render a parliament less-attuned to parliamentary process and more prone to error.
The merit of experienced practitioners to Britain’s politics is also located in its idiosyncratic, uncodified constitution. An amalgam of laws, precedents, customs and traditions, the essence of Britain’s constitution is remarkably ambiguous and, as such, interpretive. The controversy surrounding Boris Johnson’s attempted 5-week prorogation, overturned by the Supreme Court, exhibits the propensity for crisis inherent in political interpretations of the hazily articulated relationship between different arms of the state. The scrutiny of seasoned MPs, notably Barry Sheerman, Dominic Grieve and Nicholas Soames, proved crucial to the tempering of the Prime Minister’s constitutional tinkering. Faced with future constitutional uncertainty, propagated by Brexit and increasing polarisation, Britain’s politics will acutely feel the absence of those with the recollection and capacity to defend it.