Five things about David Cameron and sovereignty

9th March 2016

Here are five things to remember when you hear the Prime Minister praise the “sovereignty of parliament”.

First, ministers and officials are encouraged to use statutory instruments as much as possible, which do not get proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Second, the government has sought to cut the “Short money” which funds the scrutiny work of opposition parties in parliament.

Third, the government is seeking to push through the Investigatory Powers Bill through parliament at speed, just as it did with the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act.

Fourth, when the House of Lords (sensibly) rejected cuts to certain benefits (which were later dropped), Cameron sought to limit the power of the Lords.

Fifth, when the Speaker of the House of Commons was seen as too independent, the (then Coalition) government under Cameron attempted (and failed) to get the Speaker sacked.

Take together the increasing use of secondary legislation, the attempts to cut Short money, the rushing of primary legislation, the attempt to limit the Lords, and the plans to eject the Speaker – and the evidence does not show that Cameron and his government have any sincere respect for the sovereignty of parliament.

In fact, the evidence contradicts the notion that Cameron and his government believe in the rights and prerogatives of the legislature.

And this is without the ongoing tendency for major announcements to be leaked to the press, or to be revealed on chat shows, rather than on the floor of the Commons.

In essence, it is not the sovereignty of parliament which is being claimed by Cameron and his ministers, but the sovereignty of the government once it has a Commons majority; what a former Conservative Lord Chancellor called an “elective dictatorship“.

The rhetoric may be about the sovereighty of parliament, but the practice of the current government (as with previous governments) is to undermine parliament in as many ways as possible.

It is not Brussels which is the greatest enemy of the Westminster parliament but Whitehall.

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9 thoughts on “Five things about David Cameron and sovereignty”

  1. Ministers-announcing-policy-via-TV has been around quite a while it seems. Only last night saw a repeat of the “Yes, Minister” episode “Big Brother” in which Jim Hacker uses a chat show to announce a major initiative. From 1980. Plus ça change.

  2. On the 24th Feb in committee room 10, David Davis MP, next to whom I happened to be sitting, said to the Whistleblowers gathered to debate whether they were “vital to a transparent society” that “Yes Minister” was the training manual for our civil service. He went on to say that they managed to easily exceed the standards set in this at every opportunity. While amusing at the time, the reality is that we have given away, with little thought or objection every opportunity to challenge, oppose or be a good old fashioned check and balance to those in power. Our system has become one of patronage and homage of those who become the political elite which is quite simply out of touch with its reason for being. Not only do I support the Brexit but I support a call for a complete overhaul of our political system and an enshrining of a Bill of Rights for our country that prevents the demigods (Ministers and Manderines) from ever again eroding our rights. It’s the people that make a country great, not it elected representatives. Long live the wrongly named whistleblowers, those who are indeed vital to a transparent society who are actually the honourable far to frequently among the dishonourable.

    1. I don’t see what Brexit has to do with expecting Ministers and Mandarins to communicate via HoC. If we put our own house in order first we can argue for the same in the EC relationship with the EP. And the Dutch, Scandis and many Eastern countries will support us.

      1. I agree with Georgina. The fact that our career politicians all seem so in love with the EU should ring alarm bells. So I see Brexit (if it happens) as a necessary first step along a road to cleansing the Augean Stables ie Westminster and Whitehall.

        But we also need to revisit devolution and come up with a completely new settlement – one that treats England, Scotland and Wales as equals. I hesitate about N Ireland as that is tricky on account of it’s size let alone anything else.

        PS Nice article Jack.

  3. Excellent article Jack. However I fail to see any reasoning behind the assertions above that Brexit would help us to prevent Cameron’s attack on the sovereignty of parliament. In fact I reckon you could mount a plausible argument that our membership of the EU is all that stands between us and the authoritarian one party Tory state that could be the result of Brexit.

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