Thursday, 23 October 2008

The reshuffle isn't over yet

One of the consequences of Labour having been in Government for rather a long time is that the backbenches become ever more populated with former Ministers. Some of them adapt to life on the backbenches pretty well, like John McFall as Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, or Tony Lloyd as Chair of the PLP, or John Battle and his work with the APPG on Poverty. And some don't.

What this also means, as new blood is promoted to the Whips Office or, as in the latest reshuffle, appointed Regional Ministers' Deputies, is that the pool of backbenchers who are willing to serve as a PPS or on a Select Committee or on a Standing (Bill) Committee dwindles. Frank Dobson or David Blunkett or Alan Milburn (or name your former Cabinet Minister of choice) are never going to be unpaid bag-carriers, although junior Ministers sometimes carve out a decent niche for themselves on Select Committees once they lose their red boxes.

Other MPs can make far better use of their particular expertise on a Select Committee or Bill Committees rather than running round after a Minister. My Bristol colleagues, Doug Naysmith and Roger Berry, for example, devote a huge amount of time to, respectively, the Health Select Committee and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, (fitting for a former research scientist) and as Chair of the Quadrapartite Committee on Arms Export Controls and a member of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, (or whatever it's called now).

They've changed the rules so that a PPS can also serve on a Select Committee, but most people are too busy to combine the two and so the Whips are struggling to fill the places. I've had offers, trying to lure me away from DFID... but I'm staying put!

And there's now an added peril to being seen in the Chamber or the tea room. Whips are constantly lurking, looking for innocent newbies to fill spaces on Standing or Delegated Legislation committees. (I was accidentally quite clever the other day in agreeing to go on the Bank and Building Societies Dormant Accounts Bill Committee, which lasted three sessions; that meant I wasn't available to be roped in to serve on the Banking Bill Committee, which will probably still be going this time next year.)

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