The Commons authorities have published the results of yesterday’s election to the new backbench business committee.
The Parliamentary Labour Party might like to note it as an example of how easy it is to publish the results of elections.
One could hardly have hoped for a clearer contest between the old and the new. 74 year-old Sir Alan was the Chairman of Ways and Means (senior deputy speaker) between 1997 and 2010. In the new Parliament he was obliged, under the new rules, to give way to a Labour MP. Having first entered Parliament in 1970, he has been MP for Saffron Walden since a by-election in 1977. A gent from the shires, polite and well-liked across the House, he is the old guard incarnate.
Natascha Engel, 43, is a translator turned trade union official. Born in Berlin (of a German father and English mother), she used to volunteer for Amnesty International during the years she lived in Madrid. She has had children since being elected to Parliament (for North East Derbyshire) in 2005, and at evening votes can be seen lurking in full cycling gear in the members’ lobby, poised the second permission is given to pedal home.
In Parliament she has managed to build a reputation as an independent-minded, rather feisty backbencher, without ever voting against the Labour whip. This is an admirable and impressive achievement. And she is funny and charming.
That she beat Sir Alan Haselhurst, by a couple of dozen votes in an open contest is telling.
It remains to be seen how the new committee will work in practice. But its underlying principle is radical: that control of the non-government business of the House of Commons should no longer belong – or at least not so absolutely – to the government.
For the moment, it is only the thin end of the wedge. But it only takes a pretty thin wedge to hold open a pretty thick door.