If a week is a long time in politics; the last seven weeks seem an age. No doubt millions of words will be written trying to explain how the Tory campaign managed to wipe out the commanding lead with which the party entered the election. Certainly the campaign was too presidential, it was too negative, it failed to focus on the economy. Using the manifesto to float an incomplete and controversial policy on social care that could have been designed to worry the party’s core vote was truly bizarre. I could go on, but the difficult circumstances in which the Conservative Party and the government find ourselves demand not just an honest appraisal of what went wrong but a cool-headed plan for moving forward.
We should also recognise that in spite of all the foul-ups of the campaign, we secured nearly 43% of the vote: the best we have done since 1983. The same vote share was sufficient to propel Tony Blair into government with landslide majorities in 1997 and 2001. However badly we communicated our message, people of sound judgment the length and breadth of the country looked at the hard left leadership of the Labour Party and turned out to vote Conservative. Tory MPs didn’t lose their seats because they failed to get their vote out (they increased it) – they lost because the Labour machine pulled out a new coalition of support. People weary at stagnant wages or students taking a punt on a Marxist Chancellor of the Exchequer finding the money to pay off their loans: our vote went up – but theirs went up more.
So as Theresa May returns to the slog of government with no overall majority, how can we make it work? The first thing we should recognise is that she is doing the right thing. The easy choice would have been for her to quit on Friday morning: but that is not in her nature. The Prime Minister is determined to do her duty and to serve the national interest. That deserves respect. There is no desire amongst Conservative colleagues for a leadership election – and the public would be appalled if instead of getting back to the business of responsible government after the election, we started yet another Tory beauty parade. Secondly, the whole Conservative family must now rally to the colours, there isn’t time for blame or recrimination, there is a job to do and that job falls to us. No other party is in a position to form a government and the public has no appetite for another election. In any case, another election might just produce the same result!
As Chairman of the Conservative Backbench 1922 Committee for the last seven years, I have seen a coalition, a majority government and now a minority administration formed. Always it is a battle to ensure that the party is working together and communicating internally as it should. Our backbench policy committees have worked with ministers and made recommendations for new policy. It has always been desirable to see this improve: in the current circumstances, it is an absolute necessity. The government only commands a majority if it can carry all Conservative MPs with it – and then some from other parties too. In building consensus and deciding what can realistically be achieved, the whips (appointed by the PM) and the 1922 Executive (elected by Conservative MPs) will both be instrumental. There will be no point pushing ahead with legislation for which there is no majority in the Commons.
The era of sofa government is over. No more kitchen cabinets. No more chums. No more tight and exclusive circles. Minority government will mean proper cabinet government. It will also mean that involving backbench MPs and peers from the earliest stages is needed. There will be less legislation and more debate and discussion – those of us who worry that Parliament makes too many laws after giving them too little thought, might find a straw of comfort in this aspect of the current situation. This is especially the case given that the process of leaving the EU will demand so much parliamentary and government time.
The Prime Minister has made a good start. Damian Green, her de facto deputy is an experienced operator, a capable minister and is popular with colleagues too. The appointment of Gavin Barwell (a well-liked and respected colleague from the last parliament) as Chief of Staff both augur well. It is encouraging too that the PM was keen to bring forward a meeting with backbench colleagues so that the planned ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with the DUP can be discussed before it is finalised.
Have no illusions. This parliament is going to be tough. Facing the big challenges that we do without a majority in the Commons is fraught with danger, but we will do our damnedest to make it work for the good of our country.
Graham Brady MP
Parliament: our principal democratic institution?
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom"
by Graham Brady, / August 27, 2014 / Leave a comment
An Englishman who played a key role in both the American and French revolutions, if Thomas Paine were alive today, he would recognise in our Parliament the last bastion of the patronage state from which he sailed 240 years ago. Whereas the American colonists built a constitution which consciously sought to place democratic checks on the power of the executive; in the mother country we made the prerogative powers of the monarch seem more palatable by vesting them in a member of the legislature. If the intention of fusing executive and legislature in the British way was to achieve effective democratic control of government, the result is the opposite: our principal democratic institution is almost entirely controlled by the government.
Defenders of the status quo point to the fact that Members of Parliament are more “rebellious” than in earlier times and to the important steps forward arising from the Wright Committee in 2010: elected select committees and MPs choosing a small proportion of the business that the Commons is allowed to debate. These developments, they say, show that the Commons is a vibrant institution: more independent than it has been for a hundred years. From the inside, it feels very different. The flexing of such small muscles draws attention not to strength but to weakness.
I regularly speak to groups of students. Ask bright, well-educated young people what the House of Commons is for and they will typically say it is there to make laws. If pressed they will say it is to represent the people. At a push they volunteer that it is there to scrutinise government. Almost invariably, people miss the real primary purpose of our elected chamber: the Commons exists to populate an executive (plus a shadow executive) and to sustain that executive in office. If the things people think Parliament is meant to do are relegated to a subsidiary role, it is unsurprising that the public holds the institution in such low esteem.
The Commons scrutinises legislation badly. Bills are considered in committees appointed by Party whips. The job of the government whips is to get the government’s business approved. It would be odd if they chose to appoint the members who were most knowledgeable, most likely to offer rigorous challenge. Most serious scrutiny in committee is likely therefore, to come from Opposition members and shadow ministers in particular. Given that the government imposes the timetable and always has a majority on Bill committees, it is rare for amendments to be passed in committee. When the committee “reports” to the Commons there is a theoretical opportunity for all MPs to speak, table amendments and vote on them. In practice though, governments are likely to timetable the business in such a way as to minimise the risk of embarrassment. Little wonder that the House of Lords complains about the quality of the raw material sent to it as a “revising chamber.”
The way the House of Commons discharges all its functions is coloured by two further factors. Firstlythere are two big teams: Government and Opposition. Nearly all members are affiliated to one or the other and it is natural that we want our team to do well. Even if we think there is something it is doing badly, there is a natural reticence about causing difficulty or public embarrassment for our friends and colleagues who are “playing” on the front bench.
More obvious and overt is the influence of patronage. If members arrive at the Palace of Westminster imbued with zeal to scrutinise the dark recesses of government, to bring out into the open the things that any executive would prefer to hide: most rapidly adjust their aspirations and set about seeking instead, to become a member of that executive. A Cabinet minister is paid twice as much as a backbench MP. Even the most junior minister is remunerated better than the chairman of an important Commons committee; this gives an insight into the relative importance accorded at Westminster to the executive and the scrutiny or oversight functions. It would be too cynical to imagine that MPs want to climb the greasy pole only for a pay rise and a ministerial car…. but we all have our human frailties. The incentives in British politics too often act away from the public interest; rather than being aligned with it. The public wants independently-minded Parliamentarians fighting for their beliefs: the career structure in Parliament rewards machine politicians who blow with the prevailing wind. If the leader of a banana republic dispensed funds to MPs who helped vote his Bills through we would call it corruption: in Britain we call it the “payroll vote”.
Even more important than the pursuit of self-advancement, is the desire to gain office to increase our chances of influence. After all, most politicians at least start out wanting to change the world for the better. Keep your nose clean and you will become an unpaid aid to a minister; next a job in the Whips’ Office; then a minister in a department. Many who have held office at all these levels will tell you how elusive real influence can be.
Voters take the trouble to send able and thoroughly decent people to Westminster. Increasingly they take big pay cuts to serve the people. Survey after survey suggests that people have a much higher opinion of their own Member of Parliament than they do of MPs as a whole. This is one reason to think that advocates of electoral reform are missing the target—people aren’t unhappy with the people they send to Westminster: disappointment sets in when they see what happens to us when we get there.
In a weak Parliament, able people quickly become disillusioned. It can seem that being a Member of Parliament per se brings little influence: but there are limited opportunities for ministerial or other worthwhile office. The fact that the Prime Minister’s reshuffle in the summer of 2014 was accompanied by a rush of sacked or retiring ministers announcing their planned departure from the Commons at the next election, speaks volumes about the esteem (even the self-esteem) in which the House of Commons is held.
If we are to restore value and real significance to our principal democratic institution, we must understand the reasons for its decline. The rise of new economic and military powers in the world and the gradual shift of decision-making to the European Union are important parts of the picture. It is open to us to change some of this but not all. In an earlier time, an age of deference, it may also be that the electorate was more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Parliamentarians who were less independent than today’s. In an age of massive ideological difference across the House; perhaps it simply mattered much more which team won than whether your own representative delivered for you. Today, a large chunk of the electorate is completely disengaged from politics: but a significant minority is more engaged and better informed than ever before.
It is essential that Members of Parliament rise to the expectations of the public; but that can only be done if Parliament itself changes to give them the space they need. The immediate steps are simple. Elected select committees have greater stature: their powers should be enhanced commensurately. Proper confirmation hearings for major appointments, meaningful oversight—even control—of budgets would be natural improvements for a serious Parliament.
Committee chairs should be paid the same as the ministers they are scrutinising; maybe committee members should be paid a little too, the quid pro quo would be an expectation of very high attendance. These roles should be central to an MP’s role; they should constitute a genuine career alternative to seeking ministerial office. The House of Commons should take responsibility for allocating its own time, rather than the government handing down the business. This was recommended by the Wright Committee and included in the Coalition Agreement but has been quietly dropped for fear of sharpening parliamentary scrutiny.
Our Parliament is so weak and the executive so strong, that it is easy to think of steps that would be worthwhile improvements: but increasingly, people inside and outside Parliament are asking more radical questions. Would a proper separation of the executive and the legislative branches begin to tackle the public dissatisfaction that we face? If our elections have become “presidential” in style (more so now the genie of TV debates has been released), then perhaps we should accept the reality of a media age and allow people to vote directly for a Prime Minister. Instead of expecting the Prime Minister then to choose an executive from the limited gene pool of Parliament, he could recruit the best qualified candidates from business and beyond. Freed of the need to furnish scores of ministers and shadow ministers, the Commons could be reduced to a more sensible size. Three hundred MPs with real powers, freed of the lure of patronage and able to focus on their proper role as legislators and representatives of the people.
This essay is part of a collection of essays, How to run a country, to be published by the think tank Reform on 9th September
Sunday Express: Drink price plan 'raises drugs risk'
Monday, 7 January, 2013
January 6, 2013
Drink price plan 'raises drugs risk'
BYLINE: Kirsty Buchanan
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 20
LENGTH: 245 words
RAISING the minimum price of alcohol could turn young people towards using dangerous drugs, a senior Tory has warned.
Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee, said attempts to stop youngsters "pre-loading" on cheap drinks before a night out could "push" them into seeking illegal highs.
His comments come amid signs of a growing backbench rebellion over plans to stop shops and bars selling drinks with heavy discounts. The Government's Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) would fix the threshold for a bottle of wine at £4.20 and a can of beer could not be sold for less than 90p.
Shops would also be banned from offering discounts on multi-buy deals. Mr Brady said: "I think this is simply wrong in principle. We should be treating people as grown-ups, providing them with information and letting them make decisions about their own lives.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that MUP would stop young people from 'pre-loading' by drinking cheaper drinks before going out to the clubs and there is a real danger that increased prices might push more people to illegal drugs which are often cheaper already."
Some Class A ecstasy pills now sell for less than the price of a pint. Plunging street prices also make LSD a cheaper option than a night drinking.
Altrincham and Sale West MP Mr Brady added: "I think to ban people from buying six bottles of wine from the supermarkets and receiving a discount is frankly an absurd intrusion."
'Illegal highs are already cheaper'
SUBJECT: BEVERAGE PRICES (91%); PRICE MANAGEMENT (90%); PRICE INCREASES (79%); LSD (78%); PARTY DRUGS (78%); SUBSTANCE ABUSE (78%); CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES CRIME (78%); PRICE CUTTING (78%); ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES (78%); BEER & ALE (78%); ECSTASY (72%); GROCERY STORES & SUPERMARKETS (50%)
GEOGRAPHIC: National Edition
LOAD-DATE: January 6, 2013
Copyright 2013 Express Newspapers
All Rights Reserved
Member of Parliament for Altrincham and Sale West
8 December 2012
Graham Brady MP delivers Christmas encouragement to Royal Mail posties at Altrincham Delivery Office
Graham BradyMP has visited Royal Mail’s Altrincham delivery office to pass on best Christmas wishes and encouragement to the postmen and women at their busiest time of year.
Mr Brady was shown round the office by local Delivery Office Manager Darren Shaw and was introduced to all the postmen and women who are working hard doing their bit to sort and deliver all the cards and parcels in the Altrincham area in the run-up to Christmas.
Graham Brady MP said: “It was great to meet the hard-working Royal Mail postmen and women at Altrincham delivery office and to see at first hand just how much effort they put into delivering for people at this time of year.
“Postmen and women do such an important job at this time of year. I like to thank them for their efforts and wish them all the best over the busy festive period.”
Darren Shaw, Royal Mail Delivery Office Manager at Altrincham said: “Christmas is the busiest time of year for Royal Mail. Our people really do pull out all the stops throughout the year to ensure mail is delivered quickly, but even more so over the busy festive period. We are grateful that Graham BradyMP came along to see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.”