Westminster Diary – Thatcher’s death suspends proper politics

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The death of Mrs Thatcher has seen proper politics put on hold in the couple of weeks since.

Into the void came outrageously immaterial squabbles over issues like whether the BBC should play Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead after it hit the pop charts.

The so-called protestors who bought it are now 79p out of pocket for the download and can look forward to the prospect of Munchkins hi-jacking the shuffle function on their iPods for months to come. That’s socked it to the


But after the ding dong, comes the ping pong.

It may sound genteel but the parliamentary ping pong that will kick off tomorrow is raw politics as the two Houses of Parliament go toe to toe albeit only for a week or so before they all knock off for another break.

Legislation must be approved by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords before it can go forward to be signed off by the Queen and passed into law. And it has to be done and dusted before this session of parliament ends and the next one begins on May 8 with the Queen’s Speech.

Trouble is the Lords have made fairly important amendments to a number of bills that the Government doesn’t like. The Commons will vote to reject those changes, the Lords may reinstate them and so legislation can ping pong between the two Houses late into the night.

Issues to be settled include Coalition plans to allow employees to sacrifice workplace rights in exchange for shares in their company, libel reform and whether discrimination based on the Indian caste system should be a specific offence.

Also the Lords don’t like Eric Pickles’ plans to allow folk to put up what some have dubbed “mega-conservatories” in their back garden without the need for planning permission.

This measure does seem spectacularly stupid as the self-proclaimed Chum Number One has made himself unpopular by proposing something that goes against both Tory instincts to protect their local environment and to give local people power over what does and does not get built.

In the chamber last Tuesday Pickles was reduced to publicly pleading with backbenchers to support him in voting down the Lords’ amendment on the issue. That humiliation was compounded when Cheryl Gillan, until last autumn a Cabinet

colleague as Welsh Secretary, stood up and said that her fellow rebels would not believe his promises to cook up some sort of compromise until they saw proposals written down.

However, his vague promises were enough for the Lib Dems and the Government, who with a majority of just 27 sent the bill back to the Lords. First service in the ping pong.

Later another piece of controversial Government business saw another Tory getting grief.

George Galloway triggered a debate on whether parliament should start its business late to accommodate Baroness Thatcher’s funeral.

It says something of how pathetic that debate turned out to be that the high point was when Galloway invited Alec Shelbrooke who looks not so much as if he comes from farming stock as that he’s eaten most of a farm’s stock to intervene rather than “cackle and wobble his ample girth from a sedentary position.” The famous Galloway oratory!

After some complaints Speaker Bercow ruled Galloway’s comments distasteful.

Galloway’s mischief-making attracted just 13 votes. Leader of the House Andrew Lansley wound the debate up with the claim that Galloway was not well placed to demand the House does more hours since his by-election win last year he’s only been present for 13% of votes.