Sunday, 14 July 2013

Disrespect for MPs

It may seem perverse to criticise the NHS over the border, when we have troubles of our own in Wales, but Jeremy Hunt's performance in the House last Thursday seemed to me an extreme example of government's attitude to the democratic process. His greatest insult was to give no warning to local MPs that he was about to make a statement about changes to hospital services in north-west England. The Hansard report hints at the barely-concealed anger on the part of opposition members. This was not helped by the minister's choosing to evade questions and to mount a party-political counter in his responses.

It would not be surprising to learn that the Department of Health deliberately chose to spring the statement on the House on a day when the revelations about electronic tagging rip-offs would grab all the headlines. If so, the Department's spin-doctors were successful. No doubt north-west ITV and BBC bulletins carried the news, but the Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria rationalisation was absent from BBC News nationally.

It has to be said that the habit of considering MPs last when releasing information about government initiatives was inherited from administrations going back to 1979, when PR really came to dominate government. Moreover, there are ministers in the coalition whose first thought is not to talk to the media about policy initiatives before bringing them before Parliament. Not all of these ministers are Liberal Democrats and sadly not all Liberal Democrat ministers are blameless. However, there are signs that Speaker Bercow's strong views on the matter are having some effect. Whether this effect will hold as we approach the general election is another matter.

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