My blog yesterday which focused on the prorogation proposals set out by Boris Johnson was published in the Argus newspaper and it happened to be alongside an opinion piece by the Horsham MP Jeremy Quin, who is shown here. Jeremy is also the Comptroller for HM Household or a Government Whip and so he more than anyone in the House of Commons should know the history of what has happened in the past. However two of the most significant elements demonstrated a surprising lack of knowledge.
The first piece related to the issue of prorogation and Queens Speech which I wrote about yesterday. According to Jeremy’s Opinion “I am pleased that we will have a Queen’s speech on October 14. The current session of Parliament has lasted longer than any since the the mid 17th Century. It is entirely appropriate that a new Prime Minister will want to set out his own priorities and legislative agenda. The correct way to do so is via a Queen’s Speech, opening a new session of Parliament.” The problem with this comment is that it lacks historic understanding. There are only two ways of a new Prime Minister entering No 10 Downing Street. The first and perhaps the correct way as expressed very clearly by Boris Johnson when Gordon Brown was appointed to replace Tony Blair should be by an election. In the last 68 years since the Queen came to the Throne, there have been 17 General Elections and each one has led to a Queens Speech straight afterwards. This is true in the cases when the same party remains at No 10 as well as in cases where the election leads to a change of residents. However as we all know that despite his criticism of Gordon Brown, Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May both came to power without an election taking place. Indeed along with those three, four others have done so too. They are Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home, James Callaghan and John Major. So out of all seven cases, only two were Labour based which raises all sorts of concerns about Johnsons criticism of Brown. Prior to Johnson only one of the six cases has called for a Queens Speech shortly after they were appointed. That was Douglas-Home. One view about Douglas-Home was that like Johnson he wanted to turn things upside down. There is a second view which is that as Queens Speeches are usually held in late Autumn and early Winter going back 68 years, that Douglas-Home who was appointed at that time was simply maintaining tradition. However Johnson is proposing a Queens Speech far earlier in the Autumn than any previous one and Douglas-Home who was appointed on 19th October, waited until 3rd November for the Queens Speech which was still much earlier than most of the past ones but not as soon as Johnson is proposing.
There is a second piece of history that Jeremy Quin has raised which indicates his research is even more deeply flawed. He pointed out that “Above all the Commons (as has been the case routinely since 2010 but wasn’t generally the case under the prior Labour Government) is sitting in September.” If one takes the view that the prior Labour Government ran from 1997 – 2010 then it is certainly correct that as part of that time, the Commons did not sit during September each year. When the Labour Party came to power in 1997, the long held tradition was that a recess in late July would run through to mid October. Indeed in their first year in power they stayed away for an extra week and they did so again in 2000. However the following year was the last year when the recess was allowed to run into October and so it was not since 2010 that the Commons have routinely returned during September, in fact it is since 2002 that the Commons has routinely returned in September. This was a change of tradition that Labour introduced. Indeed given that the Labour Party was in Government for 13 Autumns and only 5 of those were years where the Commons remained closed in October, that generally they did return to the Commons in September.
Whilst the matters of prorogation, dates of Queens Speeches and the dates of recesses are small details until we come across a crisis like Brexit, it is clear that as well as MPs like Quin and Johnson lacking in knowledge about what has happened in the past, that what we need is a well written constitution that ensures that all these details and many other matters are understood by all of us and when they are changed, it requires Parliament to make the changes, not just an arrogant Prime Minister with the support of their ignorant colleagues.