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Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Parliament is both representative and effective

John Baron MP
February 15, 2024

This year marks 23 years since I entered Parliament. It has been an interesting and fulfilling job, but after nearly a quarter of a century I have decided the forthcoming General Election is a good time to stand down. I will miss Parliament greatly but, without wishing reasons to be misconstrued, always believe it is best to leave a party when you’re still enjoying it. I still believe Rishi Sunak will win the General Election whatever the pollsters might say, as regular readers of this slot will be aware, but other interests and passions now beckon.

Over this period, I have witnessed Parliament at its best and worst. I have been privy to decisions at pivotal moments, including whether to go to war, and to discussions at top table about key policies and legislation. I have campaigned on a range of issues. I have sat on and chaired various Select Committees and APPGs. Like all MPs, there have been highs and lows, successes and failures. I have been a Parliamentarian of the Year and alone on the various occasions when voting against my own party. Politics can test the emotions.

Having seen it up close, I continue to be a strong supporter of both the ability of politics to change things for the better and of the political system we enjoy in this country to implement these changes. Yet many are prepared to attack our system, claiming that it is ‘broken’. Our bookshops are full of memoirs of ‘recovering politicians’ (as they put it) or populated with polemics from commentators along these lines. Even our airwaves are no different – last year’s disappointingly lightweight BBC Reith Lectures being a case in point.

In a series of articles, I intend to address these views about British politics and our political system. It’s often said that if something is repeated often enough it comes to be accepted as fact: my efforts are intended to add some balance to the narrative. Not least as a Conservative, I generally believe in respecting history, traditions and the wisdom of the ages, to conserve the good and reform what needs improving. Reformers need to show that their solutions are an improvement on the status quo, rather than change for change’s sake.

‘Popular’ reforms can turn out to have serious disadvantages Quote

‘Popular’ reforms can turn out to have serious disadvantages. The Fixed Term Parliament Act removed the Prime Minister’s ‘unfair’ ability to call a snap General Election. Not only did Theresa May’s snap election in 2017 show the Act was no barrier to an early election, but in 2019 it turned out that the power to call such an election had merely been transferred to the Leader of the Opposition – which denied the country for several months the General Election which finally unblocked the Parliamentary logjam. The Act has since been repealed.

In a similar vein, the British form of Parliamentary democracy is flexible and easily accommodating of changing circumstances. Over the last quarter-century it has enabled and embraced devolution, and there can be few other countries with the confidence and ability to hold a referendum which might seriously harm if not destroy the state with so little fuss, as happened in Britain with the 2014 Scottish referendum. The political systems in countries near and far have not nearly been so accommodating when considering devolution.

Our system also accommodated the debate over Brexit, the most passionate for a generation, and then the EU referendum and its eventual implementation. Criticism of Parliament after the referendum was never fair: much of the country was itself split over Brexit, and Parliament – quite rightly – reflected this, especially in the 2017-2019 Parliament. All the many arguments were conducted in public - in stark contrast to the EU Commission, which conducted itself away from scrutiny from the media and EU and national parliaments.

Not many countries could have contained these powerful forces within the usual political sphere, but the British system was able to do this and implement change. Fundamentally, the British electorate voted for a profound rewiring of how our country works - and obtained it. For these reasons, and more, I remain a staunch supporter of our system, and in the forthcoming articles will set out why the common narrative that it is broken is wide of the mark. In the main, our system remains animated, representative and effective.

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John Baron is the Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay and a former Shadow Health Minister.

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