We should reform summer recess to avoid an empty chamber during crises in world affairs. Photo: Getty
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Parliament shouldn’t need recalling; it should meet throughout the summer anyway

We need reforms to parliament's summer recess in order to address the inevitable annual calls for it to be recalled over the break.

Hearing a procession of MPs, newspapers and broadcasters urging a recall of parliament is one of the annual summer rituals of British politics. Parched for proper domestic news, the political media likes to accompany its heightened interest in foreign wars and humanitarian crises with entreaties that MPs should be summoned back to Westminster to ruminate over them.

As George Eaton noted the other day, there is no shortage of MPs from all sides publicly calling on the Prime Minister to recall parliament in order to discuss the worsening crisis in the Middle East. Conservative MPs Conor Burns, Nick De Bois and David Burrowes, (as well as Lord Dannatt, former chief of the defence staff) are the latest to do so. David Cameron is, so far, unmoved.

Yet last year, parliament was recalled on two occasions: once to discuss the crisis in Syria and then to pay tribute following the death of Margaret Thatcher. Either of these examples seems to warrant MPs gathering now to discuss the grave situation in Iraq and Gaza.

Indeed, the House of Commons has been recalled from recess on no fewer than 41 occasions since 1949. The list is a roll-call of suitably august national and international events from our contemporary history, ranging from currency crises, the Korean war, Suez, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the 9/11 attacks and even the death of the Queen Mother.

There are two obvious reforms that could be considered. The first is to radically shorten the summer recess so there is more chance of parliament sitting when a major issue presents itself. This is unlikely as it suits governments and oppositions alike to keep MPs out of Westminster during the summer months while bills are drafted, batteries are recharged and backbiting is, temporarily, abated.

The second option is to earmark specific days that could be put aside throughout the summer break to discuss emergency business. The infrastructure and personnel needed to make this work are minimal. Given all the parties operate a rota throughout the summer, it is not a big leap to have a supply of ministers and their shadows and willing backbenchers ready to deliberate on whatever major issue presents itself.

This would re-establish the House of Commons as the crucible of our national conversation and it would address the problem of MPs looking as though they put their chillaxing time ahead of world affairs.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office. 

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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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