John Lehal: Real power once again resides on the backbenches
A few determined advocates for an issue could be enough to sway government policy now.
British politics has moved at an astounding pace since 2015, but the days since the 2017 general election seem to have passed by at a snail’s pace. The inconclusive election result, punctuated on both sides by moments of national tragedy, has seen the prime minister and the government in a state of near-paralysis as they scramble to respond to both new political realities and the daunting Brexit challenge that lies ahead.
Theresa May’s authority is shattered and her place in office is only assured until Conservatives get over their fear of a second snap election – or until a cabinet big beast decides to challenge her.
This lack of authority will cause gridlock in Downing Street and, as a result, across the rest of Whitehall too. That means that it is now a critical time for businesses and others to engage with government, in order to try and help keep things on track.
Ministers will have an eye on the future and on how to best make their mark in what could be a very short period in office. Expect departments to focus on a small number of high profile initiatives, rather than dealing with more niche issues as you would have expected them to look at under a majority government. However, these “fringe issues” are often the most important ones to people’s lives, and businesses and charities will need to push hard to make sure they aren’t simply ignored.
However, with May’s government plagued by inaction, the real power once again resides on the backbenches. A few determined advocates for an issue could be enough to sway government policy in a parliament where every vote counts. MPs like Heidi Allen, who was central to the Treasury dropping proposed tax credit changes, have shown the difference that a Commons rebellion can make.
Expect vocal pro-Remain figures like Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve to follow this example in the months ahead. That’s before you consider Labour MPs with half an eye on the next government and the DUP propping the current one up…
It is hard to predict how long this precarious political situation might last and what could come next, but time is ticking away. As the start of Brexit talks and Queen’s Speech demonstrate, there isn’t a moment to lose to deliver change in a fast-moving environment. It’s time for businesses to make their voices heard rather than simply leaving things to directionless ministers and officials.