Friday, September 17, 2004

House Points

Today sees the first House Points (my column in Liberal Democrat News) of the new season...

Holy platitudes, Batman!

In some American States they still send convicts out in chain-gangs so the public can see they are being punished. Sending MPs back to Westminster before the party conferences serves much the same purpose.

Never mind that most work absurdly long hours: it looks bad if the press says they have generous holidays.

If there is a case for a brief September session, it is that government should not be left to its own devices for too long. But the Commons is not good at holding it to account for the rest of the year. Why should it be any better now?

On Monday we saw how things really work. After a Batmobile had been driven through security at Buckingham Palace, David Blunkett came to the House to make a statement.

All the right questions were asked: all the right replies were given. Holy platitudes, Batman! And Tom Levitt said the demonstrators had only harmed their cause. Maybe MPs have to say that, but it is not clear it is true.

Jon Agnone, an American sociologist, has looked at the effect of protests on legislation. He finds a clear relation between demonstrations and the number of environmental bills passed. As he says: “Politicians are responsive, but this happens by going to the streets, not by schmoozing elected officials.”

While he was on the back-benches, David Davis was the Conservatives' great hope. As shadow home secretary, he is less impressive. It reminds you of the way Kieron Dyer became an indispensable part of England's last World Cup team by not being fit for any of the warm up games.

Davis is a member of the Territorial SAS. Which means, as Simon Hoggart never tires of telling us, he strangles people with his bare hands (but only at weekends). If he wants to erect concrete barriers around the palace against the Queen's wishes, he will find he has taken on the fight of his life.

Strangely, no one congratulated the police – normally MPs miss no opportunity. Yet the most admirable thing about Monday was the cool of the officers on duty. They quickly realised they were not dealing with terrorists.

Some found it scandalous that Robin was allowed to give a television interview before he was taken away. House Points found it reassuring.

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