Members and guests who attended Chesterfield and District Civic Society’s meeting at St Thomas’s church centre on Saturday November 18 heard four outstanding presentations on ‘Democracy at Work: a View from Inside’. The event was the society’s contribution to UK Parliament Week.
Te first speaker was Natascha Engels, until recently Labour MP for North East Derbyshire and one of only two women to serve as a Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. Ms Engels, putting over important points in a clear and witty way, explained how the reform of procedure since the turn of the century has given backbench Members more influence over the Government and Opposition front benches.
She was followed by Lee Rowley, the newly elected Conservative MP for the division, who shared some first impressions of the Commons, as someone entering the House from a business background. He wished to see more issues approached on a non-partisan basis, for example the improvement of public transport in the North of England, which he argued was hardly a party matter.
The third speaker, Toby Perkins, Labour MP for Chesterfield since 2010, by contrast took the view that politics was always bound to be partisan. He explained how an effective Opposition could put pressure on the Government and sometimes force it to abandon or change its policies. He too succeeded in explaining very well some technical details of Commons business.
Finally, Paul Holmes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Chesterfield between 2001 and 2010, made an impressive case for proportional representation, giving numerous examples of the unfairness of the current first-past-the-post system, and arguing that coalition government in Europe did not, as the British often believe, always mean weak government. He pointed out that the Coalition Government of 2010–15 had, despite gloomy forecasts to the contrary, lasted its full term and achieved a measure of economic recovery.
All the presentations attracted a lively discussion, including valuable comments from Mr Harry Barnes, the former Labour MP for North East Derbyshire , and everyone agreed afterwards that the meeting had been both enjoyable and instructive.