It might seem a bit early in the life of this blog to be getting into the obscurities of the House of Commons, but the Animal has always believed in starting as you mean to go on.
There is something about the Early Day Motion that really fascinated me, ever since…well…ever since I worked for an MP who really (and I mean really) liked signing the things. I think the fascination lies in the combination of the utter pointlessness of the whole enterprise and the fascinating insight they give into the minds of our dearly beloved parliamentarians.
A quick bluffers guide to the Early Day Motion (or EDM henceforth). They have been very acurately described as ‘parliamentary graffiti’ – basically they allow your backbench MP to scrawl Joe Bloggs MP ♥ Post Offices on the toilet wall. Then every other MP (except, by convention, members of the government) gets the chance to add their name, just to prove they love Post Offices as well. And then…well nothing really. These motions are never debated or voted on (although they technically call for a debate at ‘an early day’). They sit, largely unnoticed and unloved on a Parliamentary Database. Very occasionally, on very contentious issues, they serve as a warning sign to the governing party that MPs beyond the awkward squad are concerned about a proposed policy. If enough moderates appear, there may be concessions. This happens perhaps once or twice a year (or with a nervous enough Prime Minister, once or twice a week) – yet over 2000 EDMs are tabled every year.
Why? To show constituents, who do not normally comprehend the pointlessness of the things, that you are taking action; to demonstrate to Ministers the amount of disquiet on a given issue; or for no apparent reason at all.
Every now and again, the Animal will be highlighting a few of the odder, most parochial, self-congratulatory or pointless EDMs. Obviously, this will happen mainly when Parliament is sitting, but in preperation for their return, here are a few examples from the year to date.
Keeping up with the Jones’: Wrexham has just got itself a university!And Ian Lucas MP (for Wrexham, nach), wants you to know all about it. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m all for expansion of HE and I was genuinely thinking the other day that north-east Wales had a gap in provision. Signatories to date: 5, all Labour, with one rogue South Walian gate-crashing the North’s self-congratulations.
Working for the Man: Hurrah! Self-sacrificing budget hotel chain Travelodge is allegedly running a campaign to promote the British seasideand John Pugh MP (for Southport, nach) is more than happy to give a commercial organisation free publicity using public money fantastically happy about it. You might think of the traditional B&B as the basis for a seaside break, but no! Travelodge is where its at for your helping of sea, sand and drizzle. BTW, has anyone else noticed that Travelodge get themselves in the media every week by conducting a ‘survey’ into something vaguely Travelodge-y (“73.2% of Britons will eat broccoli in bed over the bank holiday weekend”) – and is anyone else sick of the BBC constant collusion with it? Signatories to date: 9 happy Travelodge elves from the Lib Dems and Labour. Interestingly, only 3 represent seaside constituencies…
Pointless Party Press Release: Bob Spink is, by common cross-party consent, an odd chap. Obscure constituency shenanigans which no-one except Mr Spink fully understands led him to leave the Tories and take the UKIP whip (and presumably as their only MP, he is the Whip). Which means he gets to submit EDMsdemonstrating just how much influence UKIP has on the political process – it was entirely responsible for the government’s u-turn on fuel tax increases, don’cha know? Signatories to date: the entire parliamentary ranks of UKIP, so…er…one.
Geographically illiterate bandwagon jumping:So the MP for Solihull wants to safeguard Post Offices in Solihull?Fair enough, really. What’s interesting is the other 32 MPs who apparently have an in-depth knowledge of the postal needs of the good burghers of the glamorous Midlands town. Signatories to date:33 geographically disparate Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs from neighbouring areas such as Torbay, Southwark and Argyll.
Boris’ little helper: Obviously, I can’t fault Diane Abbott’s fine EDM castigating our much loved Mayor’s scrapping of emissions-based congestion charging. What is fun, however, is that the well-known London Tory Greg Knight MP (Yorkshire East) has tabled no less than four silly little amendments in the hope that Parliament will simply ‘note’ the news of Boris’ decision, rather than being concerned by it. Signatories to date:Interesting this. That other well-known London MP, Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) has summoned up the courage to put his name to two of Knight’s amendments – namely the most inconsequential ones. For some reason, he isn’t interested in congratulating Boris on implementing his manifesto pledge.
The Vicar thanked everyone involved in the sports day: Apparently, this soccer lark is quite popular. Never got it myself. However, I do think that anyone who cared would know that Portsmouth won the FA Cup this year, without needing an EDM to remind them.Mike Hancock MP disagrees with me – we don’t know what the other Portsmouth MP thinks, because she is Geoff Hoon’s PPS, so can’t sign. Apparently, the manager should be knighted. Wish I got knighted for doing my job. Signatories to date: seven male Lib Dem and Labour MPs (good to see Tories staying well clear of this decidedly plebian sport). Not quite sure what local supporters of Manchester United, Mansfield Town, Barnet or Nottingham Forest would have to say about their MPs signing this particular motion.
The League Table
EDMs tabled to date in 2007-08 Parliamentary Year: 2289
Top signers (with % of all EDMs signed):
1. Ann Cryer (Keighley) 1632 (71.3%)
2. Rudi Vis (Finchley & Golders Green) 1597 (69.8%)
3. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) 1514 (66.1%)
4. Alan Simpson (Nottingham South) 1509 (65.9%)
5. Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) 1366 (59.7%)
6. John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington) 1346 (58.8%)
7. Bill Etherington (Sunderland North) 1342 (58.6%)
8. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) 1335 (58.3%)
9. Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak) 1306 (57.1%)
10. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) 1303 (56.9%)
A quick glance at this list shows a very clear correlation between signing lots of EDMs and being on the left of your party – all but two of the Labour entries are members of the campaign group. Peter Bottomley is just odd. When I worked at the GLA, one of my tasks was keeping an eye on relevant EDMs, and his name kept cropping up as a signatory of the most unlikely Livingstone-friendly motions.
Most signed EDMs to date (with % of all MPs signing – colour is party affiliation of motion tabler)
1. Honour the Brave campaign Medal for all who served in Iraq & Afghanistan 329 (51%)
2. Mass Extinction of Amphibians We could lose half of all amphibians in our lifetime! 287 (44.5%)
3. Feed-in Tariffs for Renewable Energy Guarantee above market rates for green electricity 281 (43.6%)
4. Public Sector Buildings (Energy Performance) Bill Require increased energy efficiency 275 (42.6%)
5. Climate Change Bill Government’s CO2 targets not ambitious enough 257 (39.8%)
6. Publication of Hon.Members’ Home Addresses Not in favour 256 (39.7%)
7. Carers’ Week 2008 Promoting the week 254 (39.4%)
8. Disability Poverty in the UK Make tackling disability poverty a priority 252 (39.1%)
9. Farepak Prevent collapses of this kind re-occuring 251 (38.9%)
10. Post Office Card Account Retain basic banking with the Post Office 250 (38.8%)
This league table will be updated, with a bit more analysis, reasonably regularly, once Parliament returns.