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Parliament Matters

Is the Conservative Party falling apart?

Season 1, Ep. 34

Following the local election results, are we now in zombie Parliament territory? With no immediate general election in sight what can be achieved in Westminster before MPs finally make their rendezvous with the voters?


We talk to Professor Tim Bale about defeat, defections and the internal dynamics of the Conservative Party. Is what we are witnessing merely the natural result of 14-years in office and a party in the doldrums having run out of government steam? Or is the Conservative Party’s historic electoral coalition unravelling? Is this the normal cycle of politics or is something more fundamental at work?

 

Facing grim polling predictions, we analyse the potential impact of a disastrous election defeat on the Party’s ideological direction, examining the struggle between the various factions within the parliamentary party. And we reflect on how post-election rebuilding may shape the Party’s leadership and political strategy in the future.

 

The unexpected defection of right-wing Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, to the Labour Party was elegantly stage-managed for maximum impact by Keir Starmer and his team, at Prime Ministers’ Questions this week. But was it too clever? We discuss whether the opportunities really do outweigh the friction created by welcoming such a controversial new MP to Labour’s ranks.

 

We look at why some Conservative MPs want to scrap postal voting when recent research published in the Hansard Society’s journal, Parliamentary Affairs, suggests they would be shooting themselves and their party in the foot if they did so.

 

And as Wayne David MP’s Private Members’ Bill to tackle SLAPPS – strategic lawsuits against political participation - grinds its way through Parliament we catch up on the Committee debate this week which saw MPs grappling with the fine technical detail of how to balance the right to sue for defamation with the right to enjoy free speech and not to be oppressed by legal bullying tactics. 


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Parliament Matters is a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.


Producer: Richard Townsend


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  • 38. Will the parties reform Westminster?

    01:08:54
    After a brief election-induced hiatus Mark and Ruth are back to look at the party’s manifesto plans to reshape Parliament and politics. They are joined by one of the country’s leading constitutional experts, Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London, to give us her verdict on the parties’ proposals to reform both the Commons and the Lords. They explore Labour’s proposals for a Modernisation Committee in the House of Commons which will be tasked with considering procedural reforms, driving up standards and improving working practices. So, what might the agenda for this new Committee look like? How will the membership be constituted in a House with so many new MPs who have little knowledge and experience of how Westminster works?The conversation then shifts to the House of Lords, where Mark and Ruth speak with Earl Kinnoull, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, the facilitator of the second largest group in the House. The Lords is one of the few real speed-bumps that a Labour Government with a large Commons majority would face. Could a Labour Government even with a very big majority run into resistance on some of its proposals to reform the Upper House? Lord Kinnooull suggests that building cross-party consensus is likely to be the most productive approach to these constitutional reforms. Back in the studio Meg Russell suggests ways in which the relatively vague manifesto commitments might be implemented, to improve the way Peers enter and leave the House and to police its future size. 🎓 Learn more using our resources for the issues mentioned in this episode.❓ Send us your questions about Parliament:✅ Subscribe to our newsletter.📱 Follow us across social media @HansardSociety£ - Support the Hansard Society and this podcast by making a donation today.Parliament Matters is a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.Producer: Richard Townsend
  • 37. Democratic decision-making in health emergencies: Learning the lessons of the Covid pandemic

    28:20
    This week we have a compelling conversation with human-rights barrister Adam Wagner as we delve into the findings of the Independent Commission on UK Public Health Emergency Powers. Just before the general election was called, the Commission published its final recommendations, aiming to reshape law-making in the event of a future health emergency in the UK.In this episode, we hae got exclusive insights from Adam Wagner and our co-host Ruth Fox, both Commissioners appointed by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. They share their perspectives on the critical issues surrounding parliamentary scrutiny, the rule of law and the protection of human rights during Covid-19 and they discuss the importance of addressing these issues now, given that they fall outside the remit of the official UK Covid-19 Inquiry.With a simple stroke of a pen Ministers imposed regulations during the pandemic, leading to some of the most restrictive peacetime laws in history. But the concept of ‘emergency’ was stretched and the role of parliaments – and most especially the House of Commons - was marginalised to an unacceptable extent: parliamentary accountability for, and control over Ministerial decisions diminished considerably.The key questions addressed in this episode include: what should appropriate democratic oversight and accountability of emergency law-making look like? And how can we prevent the marginalisation of Parliament in future health emergencies?We explore the Commission's recommendations, including proposed changes to the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, the introduction of an ‘urgent health situation’ declaration to enable emergency scrutiny procedures for a limited time, and the creation of a dedicated emergency parliamentary scrutiny committee to review government policy on a cross-departmental basis during health emergencies.Covid-19 underscored the critical role of legislatures as forums for debate, democratic accountability, and approval of legal responses to emergencies. Thus, another of the Commission’s recommendations is that all four legislatures be involved in future contingency planning for health emergencies.Tune in to this episode for an in-depth discussion on the future of emergency law-making and the steps needed to ensure robust parliamentary oversight and accountability in times of crisis.🎓 Learn more using our resources for the issues mentioned in this episode.❓ Send us your questions about Parliament:✅ Subscribe to our newsletter.📱 Follow us across social media @HansardSociety£ - Support the Hansard Society and this podcast by making a donation today.Parliament Matters is a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.Producer: Richard Townsend
  • 36. General election called: What now for Parliament?

    49:20
    This week, we dive into the unexpected political shake-up in Westminster, where Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a general election has thrown Parliament into turmoil. The Prime Minister’s surprising move to hold the election in early July, rather than waiting until Autumn, has sent shockwaves through the political landscape.We explore the immediate impact on MPs and their staff, highlighting notable figures who have swiftly announced their decision to step down. With the election looming, the normal legislative process is being accelerated in what’s known as the 'wash-up,' where parties negotiate which bills will make it onto the statute book. Some bills may fall by the wayside, others may be significantly altered, and a few might make it through relatively unscathed.Select Committees also face significant challenges. How many of their outstanding reports can be completed and published before Parliament is prorogued? And what will happen to unfinished inquiries once MPs depart Westminster?Looking ahead, we discuss the parliamentary timetable post-election. Newly elected MPs will be summoned to Parliament, but what will the schedule look like if the State Opening and the King’s Speech occur in mid-July? Will the Summer recess proceed as usual, or will a new government keep MPs in Westminster to legislate and get acquainted with their new roles?Away from the Westminster drama, we examine a major scrutiny challenge for the next Parliament: holding Metro Mayors accountable for their powers and the billions they spend on services. Should accountability be driven from the top down by Parliament, or from the bottom up by local government? The Conservative Government has proposed regional “MPs sessions” in the West Midlands and Manchester. What form would these sessions take, and would they be effective? We also explore Labour's proposals with insights from Dr. Jack Newman of Bristol University, author of a new report on rebuilding local democracy and the accountability challenges posed by English devolution.🎓 Learn more using our resources for the issues mentioned in this episode.❓ Send us your questions about Parliament:✅ Subscribe to our newsletter.📱 Follow us across social media @HansardSociety£ - Support the Hansard Society and this podcast by making a donation today.Parliament Matters is a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.Producer: Richard Townsend
  • 35. Democracy is in danger, warns Theresa May

    59:40
    In a powerful Churchill Attlee Lecture commemorating the Hansard Society's 80th anniversary, former Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a stark warning about the state of democracy. She expressed grave concerns about the waning trust in democratic institutions, particularly among young people.Theresa May emphasised the urgent need for a culture of service in politics, criticizing the culture of exceptionalism at Westminster and the notion that MPs are above the law. She called for politicians to diligently serve their constituents and criticized career politicians lacking experience outside Westminster. May also stressed the importance of ministerial responsibility, urging politicians to refrain from blaming civil servants when policies encounter issues. Furthermore, she highlighted areas where the legislative and parliamentary process could be improved to ensure MPs are more effective representatives in the future.This week, we also got a tantalizing glimpse of Labour's parliamentary strategy in a speech by Lucy Powell MP, the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons. Powell outlined Labour’s plans for legislative processes if they come to power, revealing insights into the workings of a shadow Parliamentary and Business Legislation Committee designed to stress-test legislative proposals. She hinted at potential reforms in parliamentary procedure and advocated for greater use of pre-legislative scrutiny.A dramatic Commons vote at the start of the week shifted the threshold for excluding MPs from Westminster accused of serious crimes from the point of charge to the point of arrest. Labour MP Jess Phillips delivered a powerful speech, sharing victims' voices and emphasizing the need for stronger safeguards.The pivotal moment came with Lib Dem Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP’s amendment, which passed by one vote. This amendment proposed earlier exclusion to protect the safety of those on the parliamentary estate. Chamberlain reveals the behind-the-scenes efforts and cross-party collaboration that led to the successful amendment. We discuss the implications of the vote and why it's likely that the House of Commons will need to revisit the rules for proxy voting by MPs because of this week’s drama.🎓 Learn more using our resources for the issues mentioned in this episode.❓ Send us your questions about Parliament:✅ Subscribe to our newsletter.📱 Follow us across social media @HansardSociety£ - Support the Hansard Society and this podcast by making a donation today.Parliament Matters is a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.Producer: Richard Townsend
  • 33. Post Office Horizon scandal: what is Parliament doing about it?

    01:04:17
    Should Parliament simply overturn the convictions of postmasters caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal? That’s what the Government proposes to do through the Post Office (Horizon system) Offences Bill. But quashing of convictions is normally a matter for the courts. Some MPs have misgivings about setting a constitutional precedent as well as practical concerns about how the Bill will be implemented. We talk to the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP.Meanwhile, SNP MPs are furious that UK Ministers have declined to extend the provisions of the Bill to postmasters convicted north of the border. So why does the Bill apply to all other parts of the UK but not to Scotland? Does this tell us anything about the politics of devolution?As Westminster braces for the local election results we discuss what to look out for – not just winners and losers but turnout and the size of the party swing - and the implications particularly for Rishi Sunak.Following Conservative MP Dan Poulter’s defection to Labour we ask what does it take to cross the floor of the House of Commons? Is it an act of conscience or the act of a cynical turncoat? How often does it happen?And we answer listener’s questions. Hypothetically, what would happen if a Prime Minister’s party retained a parliamentary majority at the general election, but the Prime Minister lost their seat? 🎓 Learn more using our resources for the issues mentioned in this episode.📜 Read the transcript.❓ Send us your questions about Parliament:✅ Subscribe to our newsletter.📱 Follow us across social media @HansardSociety£ - Support the Hansard Society and this podcast by making a donation today.Parliament Matters is a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.Producer: Richard Townsend
  • 32. Is AI set to destroy trust in elections? Tackling misinformation in politics & Parliament

    27:01
    The emerging role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in shaping political discourse is a potential game changer. It has the capacity to fabricate fake interviews and manipulate images, all of which could mislead voters and disrupt the democratic process. But could it affect the results of our elections?We talk to Chris Morris, the head of factchecking organisation Full Fact, about the threats posed by these technologies, the potential scale of misinformation in politics, and the measures politicians and political parties need to take to counteract them.With public trust in political figures at a low ebb we discuss how AI-generated misinformation could further erode confidence in electoral integrity and democratic values and the responsibility on political parties to therefore use AI ethically.Chris Morris stresses the importance of preparing in advance for scenarios where AI could influence election outcomes, including at the individual constituency level. He suggests looking to models like that used in Canada for handling major information incidents to ensure clarity and trust in how election-related misinformation is addressed. Full Fact has called for similar proactive measures to be discussed and implemented in the UKWe also delve into the recent parliamentary rule changes that extend to all MPs a right that was previously reserved for Ministers – the right to rectify any inaccurate statements in Hansard, the official record of parliamentary proceedings. But should MPs face sanctions, perhaps even a criminal offence for lying in Parliament, if they refuse to correct inaccuracies?Full Fact frequently draws attention to inaccurate claims made by MP, but not all MPs are willing to correct the record. So, what reason do these MPs give for their unwillingness to retract inaccurate statements?And with the general election potentially just weeks away, we discuss how Full Fact is gearing up organisationally for the campaign and its role in combating misinformation. We discuss the importance of media literacy, and whether the focus of factcheckers should be on ‘pre-bunking’ misinformation – putting accurate information out in the public sphere first – rather than on ‘de-bunking’ false claims once they are made and the falsehoods have spread. 🎓 Learn more using our resources for the issues mentioned in this episode.📜 Read the transcript.❓ Send us your questions about Parliament:✅ Subscribe to our newsletter.📱 Follow us across social media @HansardSociety£ - Support the Hansard Society and this podcast by making a donation today.Parliament Matters is a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.Producer: Gareth Jones
  • 31. Rwanda Bill becomes law: but what was really going on behind the scenes in Parliament?

    45:59
    The Rwanda Bill has made it over the parliamentary finishing line but not without some last-minute drama. We talk to the SNP’s Alison Thewliss MP about what went on in a small room behind the Speaker’s Chair away from the cameras!And what on earth is going on in the minds of MPs, after another in a succession of sleaze scandals hits Westminster. This time it’s Mark Menzies MP who has resigned from the Conservative Party and won’t stand again at the general election. He’s facing accusations of fraud and misconduct after telephoning an elderly constituency member claiming he’d been locked up by “bad people” who were demanding money. Are MPs – or specifically male MPs – simply big risk-takers or is there something else at work?Meanwhile, the exodus from Westminster continues to grow: the number of MPs standing down at the next election has now passed the 100-mark. The data reveals some interesting developments that will affect the parties and select committees in the next Parliament.And farewell to Frank Field – the backbenchers’ backbencher - and one of the most extraordinary parliamentarians of the last 40 years. We reflect on his lifetime in politics, particularly his outstanding work as a select committee chair, and Mark remembers a tricky visit to Field’s Birkenhead constituency while reporting for the BBC. 🎓 Learn more using our resources for the issues mentioned in this episode. 📜 Read the transcript. ❓ Send us your questions about Parliament: ✅ Subscribe to our newsletter.📱 Follow us across social media @HansardSociety£ - Support the Hansard Society and this podcast by making a donation today.Parliament Matters is a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.Producer: Gareth Jones
  • 30. Tobacco and Vapes Bill: free vote blows smoke in Rishi Sunak's eyes

    51:29
    Rishi Sunak offered his MPs a free vote on his flagship Tobacco and Vapes Bill and dozens concluded they could not support it. As well as exploring the politics of the Bill, Ruth and Mark discuss the concept of a free vote and how they have been deployed in previous parliamentary sessions.They denounced them at the time, but should Labour Ministers now use the sweeping powers Conservative Ministers have given themselves in this Parliament – for example, in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 - to push through a Labour Government’s agenda in the next? Former adviser to the last Labour Government, John McTernan, has suggestedAnd we talk to former Foreign Secretary, Lord David Owen who during House of Lords questions this week asked his successor, Lord Cameron, about the prospects for closer co-operation with the French Government over nuclear weapons strategy. It turns out there was a diplomatic initiative behind the question, involving a former French Foreign Secretary. We ask Lord Owen how he thinks Lord Cameron is doing in his old job, and whether he thinks it’s possible to do the job from the House of Lords not the Commons.🎓 Access resources about issues mentioned in this episode via our website.❓ Submit your questions to us on all things Parliament using our online form.📱 Follow us across social media @HansardSociety✅ Subscribe to our newsletter for all the latest updates related to the Parliament Matters podcast and the wider work of the Hansard Society:Make a donation today to support the Hansard Society. We don't have a wealthy founder or an endowment. That's why donations are so important – they help to support our work AND our independence.Parliament Matters is a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable TrustProducer: Gareth Jones