It dates from 1097 and its place in London’s history is almost unrivalled.
Charles I and the gunpowder plot conspirators were tried there and in recent years, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and the Queen – four times – have addressed parliament there.
But on the day MPs returned to the Commons after the Whitsun recess, a packed Westminster Hall resembled the snake-like queuing areas of Disneyland, Alton Towers or a budget airline check-in.
These were not members of the public standing in line, however, but MPs waiting to vote on moves by the Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to scrap the so-called “remote parliament” and return to the normal raucous, rowdy atmosphere of the chamber and traditional voting in crowded, sweaty, heaving division lobbies.
The reason for the long queues: the speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, had declared that Public Health England had ruled the division lobbies were a health hazard and a breeding ground for COVID-19 when packed with grunting, sneezing, coughing MPs during voting.Advertisement
And vote for Mr Rees-Mogg’s reforms they did – eventually. But this socially distanced voting took a while. A long while.
About an hour-and-a-quarter for two votes, the time that would normally take for four or five divisions.
While this marathon of parliamentary democracy was going on, what was revealing and perhaps even alarming was how some – even very senior – MPs don’t know their way around Westminster.
I personally performed what I regard as a public service when I had to direct the Chancellor Rishi Sunak – the second most powerful member of Boris Johnson’s government – from the Central Lobby to Westminster Hall.
“It’s not as if he’s in charge of anything important,” snarled a grumpy Labour MP who witnessed my good deed.
He wasn’t the only lost soul, however. A number of MPs of many years’ standing who ought to have known better, were equally lost.
When the lost souls eventually found their way to Westminster Hall, the first vote, rejecting a plea to keep remote voting, was defeated after nearly 45 minutes by 242-185, which meant only 427 of the 600+ MPs eligible to vote took part.
The second, approving Mr Rees-Mogg’s proposals by 261-163, took a mere half an hour or so. The government’s majority was bigger this time because a number of Tory rebels in the first vote abstained in the second.
Did the shorter time taken for the second division mean MPs were getting the hang of this socially distanced voting?
Well, three hours later they had a chance to do it all again, in a showdown on parliamentary boundary changes.
During that vote, deputy Speaker Nigel Evans ordered a number of MPs wearing face masks to remove them, no doubt fearing there were imposters casting a vote!
Earlier, Mr Rees-Mogg, lampooned as “the member for the 18th century” and famous – or infamous – for lying down and stretching his long legs out on the government frontbench during a debate last year, was making the case for a return to the old ways.
Opening a debate limited to 90 minutes, he spoke for nearly 35, largely due to taking dozens of interventions, which exasperated and annoyed the senior deputy speaker, Dame Eleanor Laing, who desperately tried to speed up proceedings, not altogether successfully.
Ahead of the debate, Labour’s wily and wise chief whip, Nick Brown, had predicted a “Rees-Mogg conga”. If only. At least the Cuban carnival dance moves at a decent pace. This one was painfully slow.
Since MPs couldn’t vote in the Aye and No lobbies and had to stay two metres apart, they were forced to queue in Westminster Hall before voting in the chamber itself. Many began queueing while the debate was still going on, a good quarter of an hour before the division bell rang.
But the queue moved so slowly that MPs weren’t just queuing in Westminster Hall. The line trailed back out into New Palace Yard, under the underpass beneath Bridge Street and up the escalator into Portcullis House.
It was estimated that the queue was 1km long – nothing if you’re waiting to see the attractions at Disneyland or Alton Towers, but hopefully longer than an airport check-in for flying economy.
Critics would no doubt say that MPs aren’t used to queuing to fly economy. And they didn’t like this experience one bit.
There was lots of moaning when they returned to the Central Lobby after the first vote.
Complaints like “ridiculous”, “shambles” and “****-up in a brewery” spluttered from the lips of gasping, perspiring honourable members, especially those who had to queue outdoors in the heat of New Palace Yard. Many MPs tweeted their annoyance.
After the chaos and confusion, one senior Tory MP claimed some MPs had deliberately walked along the queue in a bid to embarrass Mr Rees-Mogg. Surely not? Perish the thought.
If true, that will have been clocked by the speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who took himself from the chair to observe personally what was going on during the vote.
Another wily operator, the speaker. His letter to MPs on the eve of these votes suggested that Sir Lindsay was no fan of what Mr Rees-Mogg was proposing.
Not only does it exclude the likes of Tory MP Robert Halfon, who couldn’t come to vote because of a medical condition, and Labour’s Margaret Hodge, who is too old at 75, but the whole process takes too long and is a waste of time.
And if the government persists with votes like these, what’s to stop Labour – or the SNP or Lib Dems, for that matter – forcing votes for the hell of it when they wouldn’t normally, just to cause the government grief?
The government’s aim in attempting to bring the Commons back to normal was to set an example to the public.
But it does seem unjust to disenfranchise MPs on the grounds of medical conditions, age, pregnancy, maternity leave or other factors.
With the cushion of its 80-seat majority, the government has won these votes comfortably.
Ever the traditionalist, Mr Rees-Mogg doesn’t want to give way to his opponents on remote voting because he doesn’t want to risk the possibility of it becoming permanent.
But for as long as COVID-19 rules and Public Health England’s warnings remain in place, we haven’t heard the last of this row.
But at least the chancellor knows the way from the Central Lobby to Westminster Hall now. I hope!Sponsored Links
File photo of Mumbai International Airport (Photo Credits: PTI)
Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport on Wednesday witnessed a runway excursion as heavy rains lashed the city. According to the latest inputs, no damage was reported as a result of the incident.
The aircraft in question was towed away following the incident which led to no flight disruption, an official statement by the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) said.
“Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport witnessed a runway excursion today with FedEx flight 5033 arriving from Bengaluru. The incident occurred when the MD11 aircraft landed on runway 14/32. The aircraft was towed away from the runway and there has been no disruption in flight operations. In consultation with AAI, considering the strong crosswinds, it has been decided that no arrivals and departures will take place between 14:30-19:00 hrs,” added the statement.
Owing to the arrival of cyclone Nisarga, operations at the Mumbai International Airport were reduced to 19 flights on June 3. These include 11 departures and 8 arrivals.
The journalist Eva Golinger (US – Venezuela) has repeatedly questioned the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The website aporrea.org quotes her statement:
«Everything that Washington was trying to achieve during the administration of Hugo Chávez is today being realized in his absence. The cancerous illness from which Chávez suffered was unusually aggressive and suspicious, and every day turns up more evidence that it is possible Chávez was murdered».
The first signs of cancer were found in Chávez in May 2011. In June he underwent two surgeries at a specialized center in Havana. His Cuban surgeons found and removed a malignant tumor that had metastasized with sinister persistence, despite all preventive measures. New operations were needed. This…
Economic war, sabotage, low oil prices, international sanctions, and political violence. Any president prior to the arrival of Hugo Chávez to the Miraflores Presidential Palace would have succumbed in just a few days faced with an attack such as that experienced by the government of Nicolás Maduro.
However, the Venezuelan people are still standing and supporting the leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution. How can this heroic resistance be explained?
The Bolivarian Comandante changed the history of his country forever. Chavista forces now have his legacy and the strategic project he designed for Venezuela as one of their main tools to plan the nation’s present and future.
Even some of those who oppose the current government share the ideals of inclusion, justice, and equality that Chávez brought to the political table.
The cultural shift and the means of understanding how government works were perhaps…
More than 2.3 million Venezuelans are participating in military exercises to protect their homeland.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro Saturday inaugurated the 2020 Bolivarian Shield, a defensive military exercise that is carried out amid U.S. threats and sanctions.
“We start the 2020 Bolivarian Shield Exercise with the deployment of our glorious Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), which maintains a military-civic union with more than 2,300,000 mobilized combatants,” Maduro said.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez confirmed that the Army has been deployed throughout the country for the realization of the new military exercises
“We are deployed on every ship, border post, city, and street. Our determination is born from our love to defend the homeland […]
The shipment of gasoline by the Islamic Republic of Iran to Venezuela corresponds to the diplomatic strengthening and trade agreements between the two countries.
The Iranian ‘Fortune’ vessel, loaded with fuel for Venezuela, arrived in Venezuela on Sunday at the port of the El Palito refinery, located in the municipality of Puerto Cabello, on the coasts of Carabobo state, reported the teleSUR correspondent, Madelein García.
The ship arrived on Saturday in Venezuelan waters and was escorted by boats, helicopters and planes of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) of the South American country.
The first ship arrived after loading gasoline in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas in March; its journey began on May 16. In the next few days, four more ships will reach Venezuelan shores.
The FANB escort faced threats the United States (USA)…
Earlier, two American media outlets reported that several tankers carrying Iranian fuel to Venezuela were forced to turn around as Washington placed pressure on the ships’ owners.
The last Iranian tanker carrying fuel and components for its production has docked at a Venezuelan port after entering the country’s waters on 31 May. The vessel called Clavel arrived just three days after the previous tanker, Faxon, brought its much-needed cargo to the Latin American state.
Key Takeaway: The Kremlin increased military and international pressure on Ukraine in May 2020 after efforts to establish direct talks between Ukraine and Kremlin-controlled proxies stalled. Kremlin information operations are framing Ukraine as having two options: legitimize the Kremlin’s proxies through negotiations or admit Ukraine is impeding the peace process. Both options in this Kremlin-contrived dichotomy advance the Kremlin’s objectives and absolve the Kremlin of responsibility as a belligerent in the war in Donbas. The Kremlin is continuing to consolidate control over its proxies in occupied Donbas while posturing internationally as a neutral arbiter aiming for peace. The Kremlin will likely intensify its pressure on Ukraine to conduct local elections in occupied Donbas in October 2020. Read the complete assessment by ISW’s Russia Team here.
Russia in Review is a weekly intelligence summary (INTSUM) produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). This ISW INTSUM series sheds light on key trends and developments related to the Russian government’s objectives and its efforts to secure them.