Opinion

Paul McNamee: Westminster – we’ve woken up and we’re watching

Sir Christopher Chope is damaging trust and crushing the idea that we're in a representative democracy serving the greater good. And thanks to Brexit, we are sitting up and taking notice

There are many positives to Brexit.

People who make fabric gazebos to cover journalists reporting from outside Westminster have never had it so good.

We’re all allowed to talk about the domestic implications of international trade arrangements with the authority of veteran economists without anybody really challenging us.

And, most pointedly, we are paying attention to what happens in Parliament much more closely than in normal times.

It takes some sense of entitlement to be so removed from the reality of what is going on out in the real world that you care more for arcane parliamentary process than the daily terrors faced by people on
the edge

For a week or two at the turn of the year regular 7pm votes on backbenchers’ amendments were on par with The One Show for viewer popularity.

The knock-on effect is that it’s not just politics geeks who keep watching when the Brexit arc light is switched off. This isn’t about behaviour in the Commons bars.

Usefully, because of our increased focus on Parliament, one particular MP has drawn heat. Sir Christopher Chope. The Conservative member for Christchurch has been in and out of Parliament since being first elected (for Southampton Itchen) in 1983. He has been a member permanently since 1997. 

Chope once claimed £881 on parliamentary expenses to repair a sofa. Let’s not rush to judge – he may well have really needed that sofa. It could be the place he lounges when he’s working out what bill to block. Chope became a parliamentary bête noire last year when he blocked a bill outlawing upskirting. He was the only voice blocking this. It was said he didn’t oppose the substance of the bill, rather that the legislation was being proposed as a Private Member’s Bill instead of as a government plan. He thinks this is a waste of time. He was annoyed by process.

As we were going to print with this edition, Chope had indicated that for similar reasons he was going to block a bill that would amend the 1989 Children Act allowing it to include things like female genital mutilation and forced marriage. This, in essence, would allow courts to issue protection orders if they thought a child was at risk.

Not only is blocking this clearly wrong but it’s damaging. It takes some sense of entitlement to be so removed from the reality of what is going on out in the real world that you care more for arcane parliamentary process than the daily terrors faced by people on the edge.

Chope, and others, may argue that these safeguards keep Parliament honest, that bad laws can’t be sneaked on to statute. But that’s a straw man. There are plenty of checks and balances and opportunity to stress test amendments.

Arguments for Brexit are built on taking back control, out of the hands of unelected EU technocrats, back to the bosom of British elected members who will do the right thing for all.

Christopher Chope, an avowed Brexiteer, is not doing that cause any good at all. He’s hugely damaging trust and crushing the idea that we’re in a representative democracy serving the greater good. And the more we react to it and call it out, the more chance we have of preventing Chope-like nonsense growing.

Beyond the noise and confusion and distemper gripping all, this spotlight turned on parliament is a Brexit dividend we must keep switched on.

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