The late Labor politician George Thomas


A Labor government circumvented President George Thomas' controversial decision in 1976 – could it happen again?

A suspended parliament, a president on the firing line, controversial decisions leading to allegations of bias on the part of the president.

Not 2019, but 1976.

Not John Bercow, but George Thomas.

Not Brexit, but the nationalization of shipbuilding.

This is what caused the famous incident in which Michael Heseltine seized the mass, symbol of the authority of the Commons, and waved in front of the Labor deputies.

President Thomas, a former veteran and former secretary of state of Wales, had ruled that the draft law on the shipbuilding and aerospace industries, an extremely important nationalization measure for the Labor government of the United States. time, was a hybrid bill different shipyards in different ways) and, therefore, his review can not continue.

This decision may have seemed very technical, but it essentially eliminated a vital government bill and marked a considerable victory for the Conservative opposition.

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The decision was also perceived as a betrayal of the Labor Tribe in which the President had been brought up – revealingly, Neil Kinnock, then an ardent left-wing leftist shouted "Vote Labor, George" just before it was over. he does not present it.

"I'm sure Jim Callaghan and the rest of the union leadership have never really forgiven me …", he writes in his memoirs.

Frankly, many Labor ministers thought that he had become a stooge of the government.

John Bercow decided this week that the Prime Minister's agreement on Brexit could not be resumed for a third "meaningful vote" without substantial changes – but it was a moment of great parliamentary significance because it prevented the government from repeating attempts to pass the agreement, tactics deemed unduly coercive by some deputies.

But what the decision does not do is that it is impossible for the government to restore the same agreement.

Copyright of the image


John Bercow has set a test that the government must pass if he wants to hold another vote on his agreement

The sequence of events in 1976 may set a precedent for this year's controversy; Sir Richard Barlas, then clerk of the Commons, informed the government that he could pass a motion that, despite the decision of the Chair, he could proceed with his bill – and that, unfortunately, he had been wounded by President Thomas.

The lesson for today is that if there is a majority for something in the House of Commons, the House can get out of it.

Members can, and often do, bypass or discard impractical rules.

They regularly abandon the rules regarding the timing of the various stages of legislation to hastily pass legislation.

And if there was a majority for a revised version of the Prime Minister's agreement on Brexit, it could then be submitted to the House if MPs voted a "paving motion" canceling the decision of Mr. Bercow.

All this sounds a little exaggerated to the newspapers denouncing the President.

His decision may be embarrassing for the Prime Minister, but all he needs to get around it is, um, a majority.

There is another point to make; the Brexit crisis has brought to light details of how the House of Commons is run, which is normally the preserve of parliamentary scholars – and in particular the vital importance of government control over the agenda of the House of Commons.

The vast majority of ministers decide on the continuation of the debates and the complexity of the structuring of votes at the report stage, which may be critical.

(Of course, there are backbench debates, but there are cautious limits to what can be debated – back-to-back time can not be used for legislation, for example .)

What President Bercow has done on a number of occasions is to give the majority of Commons the opportunity to come forward, such as when he controversially authorized a Dominic Grieve amendment to a House motion from the House of Commons. government.

Essentially, it does not allow the current government to behave as if it enjoyed a Tony Tony Blair majority, while it did not at all.

We can hardly expect the ministers to benefit – they certainly believe he has gone too far for the Labor Party – and this has resulted in splendidly vitriolic exchanges with the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom.

But the ultimate lesson is that in a suspended parliament, the president has considerable power, and his use is certain to make him unpopular with anyone.