"The battle lines have been drawn, now time to push on every issue."
11.13pm and still waiting for the vote, the division bell feels so long away, its been a while since you’ve spoken to people outside of the Parliamentary estate. Slight touch of cabin fever. Couldn’t get out of this one as the pairing whips don’t have a place anymore, every democratically elected representative told in no uncertain terms their place tonight, like last night and the night before, is on the green benches. No break, just tense vote after tense vote. This is legislative trench warfare.
At the beginning of every term in Parliament there is normally a ‘pairing’ agreement reach between the government and opposition parties so that if members from either side need to be absent for any reason their vote can be cancelled out and members can be free to miss important votes. This parliamentary convention has not been reached this year with the negotiated talks between Labour and the Tories failing to come to an arrangement. Intentional I hear you say. This is a weapon Jeremy Corbyn and those around him are aiming squarely at a weak partnership, as we saw last night.
Legislative fatigue is going to become an ever-present danger to the Conservative party which is showing signs of breaking apart at the edges already. Dominic Greaves wrote recently in the Evening Standard “Unfortunately, the withdrawal bill is not, at present, up to addressing these issues. Even more worryingly, it seeks to confer powers on the Government to carry out Brexit in breach of our constitutional principles, in a manner that no sovereign Parliament should allow.” He would say later that for him to vote on the 3rd reading of the bill the Henry 8th clause would need to be changed.
This is just one of the many examples of Tory MPs openly stating contradicting positions to the governments let alone what they say behind closed doors. There is only so long Michael Fallon saying a vote against the whip is a vote for a Corbyn government can be effective when you’re pushing someone to vote for something they don’t believe in. This is of course before you consider that the DUP won’t support much of the Tory platform, last night’s vote being the first example and there is plenty more to come. Benefits, FOBTs, Northern Ireland, the list will be long.
The business of the house when it returns after the break for conference season is not only going to be filled with Brexit but I have no doubt the vote on NHS pay is just an opening salvo of what’s to come. Labour will constantly be pushing wedge issues between the willing confidence and supply partners. I also have no doubt that with no pairing whips and mandated attendance most evenings in the chamber, tempers will start to fray. Especially if home is much further away. DUP members having to stay and not go back as frequently as they have before will store up trouble and resentment for the government.
The next parliamentary session is going to be reminiscent of Callaghan’s administration in 1976 after the Conservatives broke off the pairing agreement, accusing Labour of bringing in an MP to vote who should have been paired off. MPs would sit and argue through the night day after day then, with tensions high, the government would be brought down in a vote of no confidence by one missing MP. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have an opportunity to bring down this government by grinding down the paired partners and pushing on every issue. The battle lines have been drawn, now time to push on every issue.
Adam Allnutt is a Young Fabians member. Follow him on twitter at @AdamAllnutt