After the busy Conference season, Parliament is now back in earnest, with a series of crucial debates last week on what I have called the ‘Gagging Bill’ – which I am disappointed to say passed in the House of Commons but now faces intense scrutiny (and hopefully defeat) in the Lords.
This week colleagues are debating an important Bill on a series of changes to the criminal law – including measures against dangerous dogs, and on firearms, amongst other issues.
It’s also been an interesting and busy week for me, as I was delighted to be promoted in last week’s Opposition reshuffle to a role in the Opposition Whips office. After a rewarding and fascinating experience with the Shadow Treasury team, working on issues from Banking Reform to tax avoidance, I have now been asked to work closely with the BIS team and Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, and the Wales team with Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith.
I imagine that a Whip isn’t a position that many, with the exception of those who take a close interest in Parliament, are likely to be aware of. I am sure though that some people away from Westminster are most likely to be aware of the role from the popular television programmes it has appeared in; including the original House of Cards and more recently the US version starring Kevin Spacey. Thankfully – despite the fearsome TV reputation – the Whips Office is far more friendly, and far less dramatic than has often been portrayed!
Opposition Whips are responsible for many things to ensure the flow of business through the House of Commons, and ensuring that the views of backbench MPs are heard by the Shadow Cabinet – especially on controversial issues. We also count the all-important votes, manage absences (for example when MPs need to attend important business back in their constituencies), and support colleagues who want to know when and how to speak or engage in a particular debate or committee.
I am very much looking forward to working with the two teams of Wales and Business, and understanding more about the detail of how Parliament and the legislative process works – all vital to ensure that I am able to best represent and fight for the interests of our local area in the future.
* Stephen writes his weekly View from Westminster column for the Penarth Times (www.penarthtimes.co.uk) – this column was printed on October 17, 2013.