How important are Backbenchers?

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  • How important are Backbenchers?
    • Backbenchers are Members of Parliament who do not have ministerial roles, be this in the Government or as part of the Shadow Cabinet
    • introducing Private Members Bills to parliament
      • Private Member’s Bills may include the 1967 Abortion Act
    • Parliamentary Committees, particularly where there is a bill in keeping with their interests or expertise
    • limited by factors such as party discipline and patronage
      • Whip system generally ensures that almost all bills which the government wants to pass through parliament will do as such, and private members bills are rarely timetabled in to debate
      • 1997 to 2010, only 7 government-backed bills failed to pass through parliament
      • Collective ministerial responsibility, no minister can be publically seen to disagree with the government
        • “payroll votes” are created whereby the government essentially ‘buys’ significant support by giving backbenchers ministerial role
          • currently over 100 junior ministerial roles and 20 Whip or Assistant whip positions across both houses of parliamentary.
    • role of government scrutiny
      • Departmental Select Committees
        • 30-40% of Select Committee suggestions are ultimately taken up by the government
        • resignation of Charlotte Hogg from the post of Deputy Governor of the Bank of England after the Treasury Select Committee lauded her failure to disclose a potential conflict of interest of her brother’s employment at Barclays to the Bank
      • David Cameron directly ignored Select Committee reports on drug legislation when introducing a bill on the matter
      • Ken Livingstone, despite his large amount of experience within local government, never chaired a select committee, likely due to his unpopularity with the party bosses
    • importance of backbenchers is largely limited by the strength of the Executive to exercise its will. Evidenlty, the idiom that legislation is passed through, rather than by, parliament appears to be true; backbenchers are rarely able to impact outcomes, and when they do this tends to be only when they can work together as a large body to provide opposition


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