The latest from the Frome MP : David Warburton and a reflection on the government U turn

  Posted: 01.12.21 at 16:01 by The Editor

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David Warburton MP writes:

You’ll remember the fascinating story of King George III, who suffered from quite extreme mental disorders towards the end of his life, his eldest son acting as Prince Regent to keep the show on the road. His favourite son, however, was his second son, the Duke of York, Prince Frederick. Without wanting to detain you with more details, they say that this was the Grand Old Duke of York about whom you will have heard.

Yes, he was the one who marched them up to the top of the hill only to subsequently march them back down. Over the past few weeks in Westminster, the lyrics to this nursery rhyme have sprung to mind.

It’s been something of a bruising few weeks in SW1. First the terrible murder of my good friend and colleague Sir David Amess as he went about helping his constituents, which sent shockwaves across the Parliamentary Estate and has changed forever the security measures for MPs in our constituencies.

Then the misunderstandings and misinformation about the sewage portion of the Environment Bill, which led to innumerable accusations to MPs and the inevitable tumult of sewage-related bon mots.

But, and here’s where the Duke of York comes in, when it came to the Owen Paterson debacle, things really took off.

Let’s face it, the whipping system in Parliament is somewhat archaic. And when a three-line whip is issued by any party, the assumption is that the troops will fall in line, march up that hill behind their party, and firmly grasp the higher ground. I myself may have voted a considerable number of times against three-line whips, but this is a little unusual. Holding your own party to account or seeking to express an independent view certainly isn’t a common expectation when it comes to votes.

When I originally saw the Government amendment to the debate on the conduct of Owen Paterson, it seemed to me to represent something of a compromise. A rebuke, but also an acknowledgement that there’s much to improve in the system itself. I indicated to the Government that I would support such an approach.

But as the debate unfolded and following the vote, I realised that we were on the wrong side of the argument. That I had misread not only the mood of the House but that of the country. And that the Government had erred. This, the Government itself accepted the following day, and withdrew its amendment, withdrew its conflation of the conduct of one Member with the system under which such conduct is assessed, and hauled the super-tanker through a u-turn.

But this, of course, left the troops having not gained any higher ground, but rather having had attacks from all sides for first marching up and then marching back down that metaphorical hill.

Perhaps it wasn’t Prince Frederick who, during the Flanders campaign towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, drove his forces forward before quickly retreating. And if it was, I’m sure he had just cause. Similarly, I’m sure that recent events in Westminster have a ready explanation. But I do hope those in a position of control reach deep into their childhood and take note of the far-sighted rhymes of their youth.

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