Confessions of a Political Animal

October 18, 2008

Early Day Motion Watch #2 – Its the economy, stupid

Back in August we looked at the phenomenon of House of Commons Early Day Motions (those unfamiliar with this particular arcanity might want to look at my original post or more reliably here for enlightenment), or parliamentary graffiti as I prefer to call them, with a promise of regular analysis to come once Parliament returned from the summer recess.

Well, hold your breath no longer, for that moment has arrived. Parliament has now been sitting again for two weeks, largely overshadowed by events elsewhere. In that time MPs, returning flushed with ideas for motions hatched during the long recess, have tabled 143 early day motions, details of which are viewable here (EDM 2143 is the first tabled post-recess). Parliament’s return inevitably leads to a small glut of the most pointless type of EDMs: those celebrating the successes of local sports teams and personalities. Remarkably, however, barring an SNP motion on one particular cyclist, not one parliamentarian has chosen to table a motion congratulating Team GB in Beijing. Local rugby teams, on the other hand, are gaining a lot of attention. A variation on the theme is Fraser Kemp MP’s motion congratulating a local school on obtaining a good OFSTED report. Not to detract from Columbia Grange School’s achievement, but I have a horrible vision of this catching on and the EDM order paper disappearing under the weight of motions from every MP seeking to congratulate their schools.

Anyway, the EDMs tabled in the last two weeks are tabulated by party and subject in the table below:

Classification Labour Cons Lib Dem Other Classification Totals
Benefits and Pensions  2  0  1  0  3
Business, regulation and trade unions  5  0  1  0  6
Constituency issues  6  0  5  0  11
Culture  0  0  2  1  3
Defence  1  1  1  0  3
Drugs and alcohol  0  1  2  1  4
Economy and tax  14  3  5  3  25
Education  4  0  0  0  4
Environment  7  2  1  0  10
Health  9  2  1  0  11
Home Office and justice issues  1  1  4  1  6
Housing  3  0  0  0  3
Media  3  0  2  0  5
Overseas issues  3  0  3  0  6
Parliamentary issues  0  1  1  1  3
Pressure group, charity or private company promotion  3  3  5  0  11
Rural Affairs  0  1  5  1  7
Science  1  0  0  0  1
Sport  2  1  2  2  7
Transport  2  0  5  2  9
Other  0  1  1  1  3
Party Totals  66  17  47  13  
EDMs tabled per MP during period 6/10-17/10/08  0.19  0.09  0.75 0.42*  

*: Sinn Fein MPs, vacant seat, Speaker and Deputy Speakers excluded from ‘Others’.

It should come as no surprise whatsoever that the economy features as the most popular category for motions, although it accounts for under 17.5% of all EDMstabled over the past two weeks compared to what must be well in excess of 50% of media coverage. The interesting feature here has got to be the party division of the economy-based motions, with just three tabled by the Conservatives. What the table doesn’t show is that all three of those motions were tabled last Thursday by semi-detached and forcibly deselected Croydon Central MP Andrew Pelling, who has tabled each one without any other members supporting them (it is normal practice for MPs tabling a motion to find at least a couple of other MPs prepared to sign the motion before they hand it in to the Table Office). Whilst one of Pelling’smotions deals with the broader issues of the bank bail-out, the other two deal with what can only be described as micro-issues. Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have tabled a good number of EDMs critical of either bankers or the government, although sadly, Austin Mitchell’s motion which

welcomes the dawn of new socialism this ushers in bringing a new age of fairness, effective regulation, social responsibility and state intervention to protect and serve the people

has to date attracted only his own signature to date. It is surprising, given that a Tory MP is complaining today about the lack of debate on the bail-out plan, that no Conservatives have decided to put their concerns on paper in the form of an EDM, which after all is in theory a way of calling for a debate ‘at an early date’.

To date, few of the last two week’s EDMs have attracted significant numbers of signatures. The current five highest are:

#2270 Martin Caton (Lab, Gower) – Public Sector Buildings (Energy Performance) Bill (No.2) – calls for the government to incorporate the private members bill’s provisions into the Climate Change Bill. 134 signatures

#2226 Alan Simpson (Lab, Nottingham South) – Renewable Energy Tariff Amendment to the Energy Bill – calls for the introduction of a ‘feed-in’ tariff to support the development of renewable energy generation capacity. 114 signatures

#2158 Shailesh Vara (Con, North West Cambridgeshire) –Breast Cancer Wear it Pink Campaign– calls on MPs to take part in fund and awareness raising activities for the campaign. 112 signatures

#2212 Janet Dean (Lab, Burton-on-Trent) – Lupus Awareness Month – urges government to raise public awareness of Lupus and to fund research into finding a cure. 96 signatures

#2148 Michael Jabez Foster (Lab, Hastings & Rye) – Tax Credit Overpayments– calls on the government to review the policy of reclaiming tax credit overpayments in view of the hardship that such reclaim attempts cause. 94 signatures

The good thing to note from these motions is that the first two in particular are doing exactly what EDMs are good at: demonstrating the support of government backbench MPs for constructive amendments to government legislation. The success of such motions in attracting large numbers of signatures from all wings of the governing party increases the possibility of the government taking such amendments seriously. The third and fourth motions are traditional, cross-party support attracting health-based EDMs, whilst the fifth allows MPs, including government party members, draw attention to a serious failing in government policy which does cause real distress to constituents, as anyone who has worked in an MP’s office can tell you.

A few of my favourites (for one reason or another) from this fortnight’s batch of EDMs:

#2252 Gerald Kaufman (Lab, Manchester Gorton) – Price of Milk. I’ll let this one speak for itself:

That this House notes the interesting coincidence that Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose have all simultaneously increased the price of a two-pint container of milk from 80 pence to 86 pence.

Price fixing, anyone? 9 signatures

#2229 John Barrett (Lib Dem, Edinburgh West) – Global Handwashing Day 2008. Yes, that really exists. And the 15th October was the inaugural Day (part of the UN International Year of Sanitation)! I’m sure this is all well meant (and the motion’s text makes a good case), but I really begin to wonder how much good the increasing number of such ‘days’ does. 29 signatures

#2159 Nigel Evans (Conservative, Ribble Valley) – Price of Beer in Supermarkets. Nigel Evans is very concerned that Asda is selling Skol beer at 5.11p per 100ml compared to 5.55p per 100ml for Evian water. Apart from the fact that he has chosen about the cheapest beer going and one of the most expensive mineral water brands for this comparison, according to the Register of Members’ Interests Mr Evans owns a retail convenience store in Swansea (just 265 miles from Ribble Valley). Could any local readers advise on the comparative cost of water and beer at said store?

More Early Day madness in a few weeks…

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