- 1 May 2012
- From the section UK Politics
I had a mischievous suggestion for my colleagues on BBC Parliament, as 80 plus peers lined up for yet another debate on the future of their House; run a tape of one of the many, many previous debates they've had on this subject in the last couple of years - and see if anyone noticed.
High minded public service broadcasters that they are, they refused, of course.
The debate did at least produce this pungent description of their lordships' constitutional role as a revising chamber, from Paddy Ashdown: "We are graciously permitted to follow along with a gilded poop-scoop clearing up the mess behind the elephant at the other end of the corridor…"
The debate continues for a few more hours today (Tuesday) before the ceremony of prorogation brings this parliamentary session to an end.
But, for that one phrase, I'm going to add Lord Ashdown to my list of heroes of this session of Parliament. This has been a two-year Parliamentary "year" - the longest session since the post-war Labour government's legislating frenzy in 1949, when Peter Mandelson's granddad, Herbert Morrison, ringmastered an awesome programme of bills.
The coalition rammed some major legislation through as well - for good or ill - and in the process an awful lot of MPs and peers had a chance to shine. So here's my rather idiosyncratic list of those who've loomed large on my personal radar...
In the Commons, three chairs of select committees have cut a particular dash: Natascha Engel has plotted a course for the Backbench Business Committee between the twin dangers of establishment cosiness and hyper-confrontational posturing. Her committee has delivered important debates on an EU referendum, Hillsborough, assisted dying and many other subjects unattractive to the government and Opposition, and provided some of the best parliamentary moments since the election.
Stephen Dorrell's Health Committee was, as he put it, engaged in "real-time legislating" as the coalition ran into trouble over the Health and Social Care Bill - with the Conservative former health secretary emerging as something of an arbiter of the government's proposals.
And Margaret Hodge, a Labour ex-minister, who now chairs the powerful Public Accounts Committee, has sent shudders through Whitehall, by insisting that civil servants must answer to Parliament for waste and inefficiency in government. A series of Whitehall mandarins have endured bruising questioning from her committee. She and her Conservative deputy Richard Bacon have formed an effective "bad-cop, bad-cop" partnership.
On the backbenches, the Conservatives have an embarrassment of new intake riches. I would tip Andrea Leadsom who has been an impressive member of the Treasury Committee, and an effective exploiter of the Backbench Business Committee machine, for rapid promotion into government, perhaps into a Treasury role. The cerebral Jesse Norman has managed to save the government big bucks by persuading some of the companies involved in the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) providing schools, hospital buildings and the like, to demand more modest fees for their services. And former David Davis chief of staff, Dominic Raab, has shown formidable political instincts and legal expertise in his various backbench campaigns - although not always to the delight of ministers.
Many of Labour's new intake are already shadow ministers - and plenty of them are impressive performers. Stella Creasey has caught the eye with her campaign on payday loan companies, and former minister David Lammy was praised for his community leadership in the wake of the summer riots - which hit his Tottenham constituency.
The star of the Lib Dem intake is the hyperactive Julian Huppert, who is engaged in so many parliamentary campaigns one wonders if he ever sleeps. And Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd has scored a major legislative coup by getting the law on stalking toughened up, after the all-party group on stalking held an inquiry under his chairmanship.