New politics? Natascha Engel and the backbench business committee

The Commons authorities have published the results of yesterday’s election to the new backbench business committee.

This follows last week’s defeat by Natascha Engel of Sir Alan Haselhurst for its chair.

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.


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4 Responses to “New politics? Natascha Engel and the backbench business committee”

  1. Herb says:

    I think the Chair result is a backbench Tory right ploy to fully control the committee. Notice that 3 of the 4 Tory members of the Committee are known headbangers on things like Europe, and the other is a member of the 2010 Tory intake. Chair of Committees can only vote to break a tie. Given that, including the Chair, there are 4 Tories, 3 Labour and 1 Lib Dem, this means that if the Tories vote as a bloc, they will win any division held, as the maximum opposition will be 2 Labour + 1 Lib Dem, with the Chair unable to vote because there is no tie. If Sir Alan had been elected Chair, Labour + Lib Dem would control the committee.

    They can do this for this committee because it only has 8 members and the Tories have 1 member more than Labour. On select committees, which have 11 members, Tories and Labour seem to have equal members, which means regardless of whether the Chair is Labour, Tory or Lib Dem, the 1 Lib Dem member will hold the balance of power.

  2. Amanda Ramsay says:

    This is a brilliant and telling development at this critical stage in the history of the UK’s Westminster/Parliamentary democracy. If only more MPs would show desire and then manage to be described as such: “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.”

  3. Amanda Ramsay : Can you provide the source of your quotation about Natascha Engel please?

  4. Herb : So perhaps some of Natascha’s support for the Chair came from Conservatives who could do their maths – including their whips.

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