Last week we saw the near full return of our elected representatives. However, it was far from a triumphant affair. We were treated to the spectacle of MPs standing in a long queue snaking around to the Palace of Westminster and then, once in the chamber, many of them forgot, or were uncertain of, the correct way to carry out their vote. Of course, many of these MPs were very busy tweeting their unhappiness with the whole situation.
Perhaps the queue looked a bit ridiculous – especially when there were clear examples of social distancing breaking down there. However, this is not necessarily because there was a queue but more because the MPs involved decided to continue to move forward – and share photos – rather than take the simple option of waiting.
It is my belief that MPs complaining about queues does the country a disservice. Many of us up and down the country have dealt with queues in the past, including the famous Wimbledon queue, and have become used to longer queues for shopping as we maintain the appropriate safeguarding measures. It is not an edifying thing for our elected representatives to complain about when key workers have kept working through the peak of the crisis and other workers have been expected to return to work.
There were also complaints about the length of time that it took to properly go through the voting process – which took almost 45 minutes to complete. The resumption of the traditional voting in person system is a more reasonable and different thing to question, when you consider that votes in the Commons would normally take a third of that time. As such the question is then whether tradition still has its place or if it should be set aside in this instance.
Less sensible is the complaint about MPs being unable to get to the chamber to vote as they are part of vulnerable groups, looking after children or unable to make the journey due to travel restrictions. Why do I say this is not a valid problem? I am not being discriminatory in any shape or form. We know that MPs have been unable to participate in votes in the past and yet our parliamentary democracy has continued. This is due to the well-established and well-respected principle of pairing.
Given the strength of the current Conservative majority, we are hardly in the fraught times of a minority government (represented by the play This House, which is currently free to watch on Youtube) where there is the risk that this cooperation could break down. Therefore, as Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Leader of the House, has stated there is no reason why it cannot be relied upon in this situation – it is a perfectly sound tradition that allows for those MPs who cannot be physically present to still be participating in their democratic duty. Moreover, MPs will still be able to participate digitally in debates where necessary and arrange medical proxy votes if they so choose.
In my view, Parliament was right to be physically recalled and returned to physical voting procedures. If our elected representatives cannot be relied upon to work in a changed work environment – how can workers up and down the country be expected to return to work? Members of Parliament, our lawmakers, are meant to set an example to our nation as they create the rules that we as responsible and dutiful citizens uphold.