Magazine article The Spectator

Parliament's Power Surge

Magazine article The Spectator

Parliament's Power Surge

Article excerpt

Bob Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays bank, is not a man inclined to bend to the public mood. 'There was a period of remorse and apology for banks, ' he told MPs this time last year. 'I think that period needs to be over.' His remarks presaged the coming confrontation between Diamond and Parliament over the Barclays bonus pool. He may think the bankers' period of remorse and apology should be over but MPs and the public do not.

The Labour leadership, sensing a political opening, is determined to have the Barclays bonuses debated on the floor of the House. We will soon find out where this Diamond scores on the Mohs scale of hardness. Stephen Hester, the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, renounced his bonus rather than have it be the subject of a vote in Parliament. Diamond is likely to face the same choice. Barclays, unlike RBS, is not majority state-owned, but it was kept going by an implicit state guarantee and it still benefits from one - or so an intellectual ally of Ed Miliband argues. That makes its behaviour an appropriate subject on which Parliament can express a view.

A few years ago a clash between a Master of the Universe and Parliament would have been an uneven contest. Parliament was an institution in decline, its powers draining away to the executive, Brussels and the courts. The Commons chamber even seemed at risk of ceasing to be the forum for national debate. The BBC consigned Yesterday in Parliament to the chamber of broadcasting relics, Radio 4 Long Wave, where it joined Test Match Special and The Daily Service. But rather like Test Match Special, Parliament is undergoing a period of revival, what one might term a new golden age. To be sure, there are no orators to match Pitt or Fox, but since the last election the Commons has reasserted itself. It is once more the cockpit of the nation. For the first time in 20 years, it seems to be growing in power and influence.

Perhaps the first example of the House's re-emergence was its refusal to accept a European Court of Human Rights ruling that prisoners should be allowed to vote.

Initially, David Cameron decided that Britain had no choice but to comply with the decision, even though he thought it wrongheaded. Parliament thought otherwise. A declaratory Commons vote in February 2011 led the government to appeal against the verdict. This vote may well have set in motion the process by which Britain leaves the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg court: not bad for a backbench motion.

The Commons also flexed its muscles when it came to News International and the phone-hacking affair. In a sign of the renewed power of the parliamentary bully pulpit, the mere threat of a Commons vote on News International's proposal to take full control of BSkyB was enough to persuade the Murdochs to pull the bid. The Murdochs again found themselves on the wrong side of a newly assertive Parliament when they declined to attend a select committee hearing into phone hacking. In a sign of the the verdict. This vote may well have set in motion the process by which Britain leaves the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg court: not bad for a backbench motion.

The Commons also flexed its muscles when it came to News International and the phone-hacking affair. In a sign of the renewed power of the parliamentary bully pulpit, the mere threat of a Commons vote on News International's proposal to take full control of BSkyB was enough to persuade the Murdochs to pull the bid. …

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