by Atul Hatwal
Uncut has learned that House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, is considering action to strip Labour of the title, Her Majesty’s Opposition, if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership election and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) remains on strike, leaving the bulk of front bench roles unfilled.
Sources in the House of Commons administration familiar with his deliberations have told Uncut that Bercow has looked on with dismay at the impact of Labour’s civil war on the functioning of Britain’s parliamentary democracy. One said,
“The meltdown happened so near the end of the last term and the situation was so fluid that it would not have been appropriate to act. But if the situation persists into Autumn, when there is a full schedule of parliamentary business, some form of action is likely.”
Although the constitutional position is murky, the Speaker has a pivotal role in determining which party is the opposition. Normally the choice is clear – it’s the largest party opposing the government. However, with dozens of frontbench roles unfilled, Labour is in dangerous territory.
Official designation as the Opposition brings a series of institutional advantages for Labour, ranging from funding to influence over the parliamentary agenda.
At the end of the last parliamentary term, Jeremy Corbyn was only able to complete his shadow cabinet by asking some MPs to take dual roles.
Paul Flynn became shadow leader of the House of Commons and shadow secretary of state for Wales and Dave Anderson was appointed the shadow secretary of state for both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Currently the majority of shadow ministerial positions remain unfilled for Labour.
When the new parliamentary session begins, Labour’s Swiss cheese front bench is likely to be exposed.
For example, if there is a motion on the floor relevant to a shadow team, while a Standing committee is considering a bill in that team’s area, with relevant Statutory Instruments committees also sitting and a Westminster Hall debate on a topic in their brief, then Labour will not be able to provide a shadow front bench representative in each debate.
In practical terms, it means the government will have no opposition in one or more area. They will not be held to account by the opposition and a core component of parliamentary democracy, in the way it has been practiced for over 100 years, will have broken down.