So much for ‘Take Back Control’.

eu

On 23 June, the UK voted to leave the European Union on the back of a successful campaign from Vote Leave which emphasised taking back control and regaining sovereignty from the European Union. Indeed Vote Leave’s slogan was ‘Take Back Control’, and the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove repeated this phrase endlessly throughout the campaign, it seemed to be the answer to every question posed of them.

Alas, when the UK judiciary did take back control last week, those on the Leave side of the debate were not best pleased.

Last week, High Court judges ruled that Parliament had to have a vote on the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the article which starts the process of withdrawing from the EU and which has to be triggered before any formal discussions can begin between the UK Government and the EU on a trade deal amongst other things. Theresa May and her Government felt that they should be able to choose when to trigger Article 50 themselves, and has such they have suggested that they will be appealing the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court in due course.

The result of this court case led to huge anger from Leave campaigners like Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan-Smith, Suzanne Evans, and of couse The Daily Mail, all of whom cried (as they always seem to) that the ruling amounted to some sort of establishment stitch up.

However, wasn’t this exactly what they wanted?!

Their whole campaign to Leave the EU (which in economic terms was nonsensical) rested on the idea that the UK’s sovereignty was being impeded by the European Union. So you would think that there would be some pleasure in seeing UK Courts taking control of the situation.

But no, all we got was anger and even a suggestion from UKIP Leadership candidate Suzanne Evans that we should end the independence of the judiciary, with judges being elected to their positions — what a disaster that would likely turn out to be.

I suppose ‘Take Back Control So Long As The Decisions Made Are In Our Interest” wasn’t catchy enough for the big red battle bus.

What Leave voters need to understand (and very few of them seem to) is that the court case is not about stopping Brexit, indeed the vast majority of those who voted to Remain accept the result of the referendum. Full disclosure: I voted Remain myself, and was strongly in favour of remaining. Although I am still of the opinion that the referendum should never have been called it ultimately was, and I am willing to accept the result. However, just because the Leave campaign won, doesn’t mean that the views of the 48 percent who voted Remain should be completely ignored, we should be seeking some sort of consensus in order to unite the country. Equally, amongst the 52 percent who voted Leave, many voted for completely different things. Some voted to completely withdraw from Europe and all its institutions, some voted purely to retake Parliamentary sovereignty in terms of legislation, some voted purely to reduce immigration, many voted to leave the EU but still harboured a desire to remain inside the Single Market — including former Conservative MP Stephen Phillips who resigned on Friday.

Yes, the public have voted to Leave the European Union, but that does not mean we should just Leave straight away without the Government even thinking about it first. In my mind, there is surely no better way to do this than to put the issue to Parliament, to individuals who deal with complex legislation every day.

In addition, it is important for the electorate to now where the government stands on negotiating a deal with the European Union — where the government’s ‘red line’ is, so to speak. Given that Theresa May hasn’t been elected as Prime Minister, this is even more important. Yes, I know that technically we have a Parliamentary system where we don’t elect the Prime Minister, however I personally think that the vast majority of people cast their vote based in large part upon the party leaders who are the prospective Prime Ministers.

On this basis, it seems right that the government should call an early election in order to gauge public opinion about what sort of Brexit the electorate wants. For the government to go into negotiations in effect blind, means that there will definitely be a vast majority of UK citizens who feel disappointed with the results — likely including many who voted Leave on June 23.

As for those Leave campaigners who are still criticising the judges who made last week’s decision, they are playing a very dangerous game. As one of the more sensible Leave campaigners, journalist Iain Martin wrote in The Observer on Sunday: “we could try electing judges, or ordering judges to disregard and ignore the rule of law on the order of politicians, but the international historical precedents do not suggest it ever ends well.” Those Leave campaigners should stop to discredit and promote the illegitimacy of these judges. For them to continue to do so could be hugely harmful to the rule of law in this country.

They should remember that the decision is not a stitch up which aims to stop Brexit, but it is simply the court ensuring that Parliament plays its rightful role in the process, by providing a check to the government’s power.

The problem with the boundary review.

Earlier this week the Boundary Commission released their proposals for a reduction in English parliamentary seats from 533 to 501 and Welsh parliamentary seats from 40 to 29, as part of a wider scheme to reduce the size of the House of Commons from 650 MPs to just 600.

The aims of this scheme are twofold. Firstly, the review aims to equalise the number of voters in each constituency in order to make the system more democratic, and secondly it aims to reduce the cost of politics by lessening the number of MPs. However, although attempting to increase the democracy of our parliamentary system makes perfect sense, the way the boundary review has attempted to achieve this leaves a lot to be desired.

The aim of equalising the number of voters in each constituency is an admirable one, and one which ostensibly should improve our parliamentary democracy.

Currently, there are a great deal of parliamentary seats with a greatly unequal electorate. For example, Wirral West has an electorate of just 54,232; in stark contrast to Manchester Central with its electorate of 87,339. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to try and equalise constituencies such as this in order for each voter to have the same democratic rights.

However, achieving this by reducing the number of MPs is not the way to go. There are already complaints from the public that MPs don’t spend enough time serving their constituents. For the most part this is because they simply don’t have the time, and tend to represent so many people that it is simply impossible for them to do all of the work requested of them. By reducing the number of MPs we are simply going to make this more difficult, and constituencies would be represented in Parliament to an even lesser degree. To reduce the number of MPs would be a grave error, particularly in a year when we have already lost 73 MEPs. In reality, if we want to equalise the number of voters in each constituency, then we should be increasing the number of MPs.

As well as this, the gerrymandering which has taken place in order to engineer constituencies of the same size means that we are left with constituencies made up of communities which bear little similarity to each other. Many of the new constituencies have been created by combining traditional Conservative and Labour seats. This surely means that whoever is elected in these seats will be representing a relatively small proportion of the seat’s population. What’s more, these new constituencies have been created using data that is almost a year out of date, excluding all those who registered to vote between December and June in advance of the EU Referendum, and the increase in political participation that this brought.

In addition, despite this reduction in the number of parliamentary seats there has been no mooted reduction in the number of Government Ministers. The main job of MPs is to scrutinise the work of the Government. The fact that the number of Ministers isn’t also being reduced means that the Executive will have an even greater presence in Parliament, therefore making the scrutiny of Government proposals considerably more difficult for MPs.

What’s more, the aim of increasing the democracy in our parliamentary system is an admirable one, and it would be hoped that voter turnout could be dramatically increased if people felt that the system was more democratic. However, if the government are so keen on increasing democracy then why won’t they entertain the idea of electoral reform, or reform of the House of Lords? If we are going to go ahead with one set of reforms to improve our democracy, then it would make sense to also check the democracy of other aspects of the system.

Since the boundary review was set up, 144 new peerages have been created. This means that the unelected House of Lords now dwarfs the House of Commons with 796 members. Last week Conservative MP Charles Walker, Chair of the House of Commons Procedures Committee said: “It seems perverse to reduce the number of elected representatives in this place while the Lords continues to gorge itself on new arrivals.” He is absolutely right. For an unelected chamber to be larger than our elected House of Commons seems absurd. Many members of the House of Lords do bring skills and experience to the table which are extremely useful for the scrutiny of Government legislation, however it has increasingly become full of the political allies of past Prime Ministers, who are given peerages as rewards for loyalty. This type of patronage should not be what the House of Lords is about. There does seem to be appetite from within the House of Lords for such reform, with many peers feeling the chamber has become too bloated. Lord Desai says as much in his letter to The Times today. Desai states that slimming down the Lords should be a priority, and that it is the House of Commons which hasn’t favoured reform rather than the Lords itself.

In addition, throughout this boundary review the Government have stated that one of their key aims is to make every vote count. We already know that this is unachievable under the First-Past-The-Post system, yet the Government do not seem inclined to consider electoral reform.

Overall, the idea of equalising constituencies is a good one. It is right that the vote of each UK citizen should be worth the same amount. However, doing it this way has been a mistake. Although the rationale for reducing the number of MPs is to save money, the actual saving will be just £66m over the course of a five-year Parliament. A drop in the ocean in terms of the budget. The significant loss of Parliamentary representation is far more important than this negligible saving. Whilst if we are examining our democracy and looking for improvements, why not further consider electoral reform or reform of the House of Lords? Changes such as this would make people value their right to vote much more, and would lead to a significant improvement of our Parliamentary democracy.

Getting Theresa May’s grammar school policy through Parliament won’t be a walk in the park for the Government.

If Theresa May is serious about her misguided plans for new grammar schools (and her words in Saturday’s Daily Mail seem to suggest that she’s deadly serious) then she has a serious fight on her hands.

The Conservatives currently have a working Parliamentary majority of just seventeen. This means that in theory, they should be able to pass this policy into law with ease. However, this ignores several key points.

Firstly, although the expansion of grammar schools has long been a policy which works well to excite the base of the Conservative Party, it is not an issue which the Parliamentary Party universally agree upon. Several high-profile members of the Cameron administration (including the ex-PM himself) harbour serious doubts about the wisdom of allowing new grammar schools to open. It was for these reasons that David Cameron didn’t pursue the opening of new grammar schools whilst he was in Government. Former Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan criticised the government’s plans this week, saying: “I believe that an increase in pupil segregation on the basis of academic selection would be at best a distraction from crucial reforms to raise standards and narrow the attainment gap and at worst risk actively undermining six years of progressive education reform.” It is well known that this view is shared by Mrs Morgan’s predecessor as Education Secretary, Michael Gove. Both Morgan and Gove remain very influential amongst the modernising wing of the Conservative Parliamentary Party, and so don’t be surprised if they work to derail the Prime Minister’s plans. After all, both are still smarting after being sacked from the Cabinet in Theresa May’s July reshuffle.

Morgan’s reservations were echoed by Neil Carmichael, the head of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, who said that the grammar school policy could, “distract us from our fundamental task of improving social mobility.” With no fewer than five other Conservative MPs having already expressed reservations about the plans, and current Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening not appearing wild about the idea, the Government’s majority is suddenly beginning to look very slim indeed.

Add to this the fact that the introduction on new grammar schools was not a part of the Conservative Party’s 2015 General Election manifesto, and the prospect of the policy passing through Parliament begins to look even more improbable. The Salisbury Convention means that, as a general rule, the House of Lords do not oppose the passage of legislation which has been promised in a party’s winning election manifesto. However, opening new grammar schools was not promised in the Conservative election manifesto. UKIP were in fact the only party who campaigned upon a platform of opening new grammar schools. This means that the House of Lords have free rein to reject the bill. Seeing as the Conservative Party do not have a majority in the House of Lords, it is to be expected that Labour and Liberal Democrat peers would be successful in voting down the bill.

In addition, although opinion polls suggest that the public are in favour of new grammar schools being opened, there hardly seems to be public clamour for the policy. In his column in Sunday’s Observer, Andrew Rawnsley suggested that the polls were misleading and simply suggested high support for grammar schools because most people don’t know what grammar schools really are, and what more of them would actually mean. This seems to be a somewhat accurate analysis. Perhaps a more pertinent question would be to poll the electorate on their support for the return of Secondary Moderns, the hated institutions where those who didn’t get into a grammar school ended up. Although Theresa May has said that new grammar schools would not mean a return to Secondary Moderns, it is hard to see what else it could mean. When this becomes clear, it would be unsurprising to see poll numbers in support of new grammar schools fall rapidly.

Overall, this plan seems a complete waste of time for Theresa May and her Government. The chances of getting it through Parliament appear slim at best. Ultimately, if she really wants to open new grammar schools then she will need to call an early election to gain her own mandate for the plans. Yes, that early election that the Prime Minister keeps insisting she won’t be calling.

Alternatively, she could continue governing and aim for some actual reform rather than a rehashed policy aimed purely at appeasing the Conservative Party base.