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MPs rediscover assertiveness

Steve Richards in the Independent last week suggested that the House of Commons seemed to have become relevant again. They returned early from the summer, he suggested, with a thirst to hold the government to account. Topical debates were happening in the chamber of the Commons – this week on the phone-tapping saga. Under the old (Labour) regime, “MPs would have been discussing tin-mining in Estonia” whilst the arguments happened in the TV studio – or between No 10 and the Treasury.

Last weeks decisions on the Shadow Cabinet (previously reported here and at the Statesman) suggests that the parliamentary Labour party may also be rediscovering assertiveness. By voting to elect all shadow cabinet members against the advice of former Ministers like Jack Straw and Phil Woolas and most speakers at the PLP meeting other than Frank Dobson, Labour MPs voted to be treated as more than just voting fodder. The new intake may not have moved the PLP decisively to the Left, but support for accountability is a welcome step forward, even if elections are now to be held every two years.

Certainly, the decision to set the minimum number of women at 31.5% (the current proportion of women MPs) equivalent to 6 out of 19 is disappointing but will undoubtedly be increased in the future. But the decision to elect the Chief Whip, with 150/100 voting in favour, is a surprising and progressive move. Communication between the Leader and MPs should be two-way, not just instructions on how to vote.

The Shadow Cabinet elections will be an interesting contest and is bound to produce the odd surprise – no more than 13 of the 14 men currently in the Shadow Cabinet who intend to re-stand can be elected. Since, according to the Guardian, there is no shortage of male former Ministers of State also standing, who will be ejected? Shaun Woodward?

And there will be at least three new women to join Yvette Cooper and (less certainly) Tessa Jowell and Rosie Winterton (recently promoted because Harriet Harman is acting Leader). Could the Eagle sisters join the Miliband brothers? Caroline Flint, Mary Creagh and, we hope, Dianne Abbott, are also possibles.

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