They used to say that in the House of Commons, your opponents are in front of you but your enemies are behind you. Today’s parliament is trying to break that convention, with the lack of coordination between the Conservative and Labour whips’ offices showing that sour relations across the chamber are all too real.
Apart from taking some of the fun out of MPs’ days, this is having three practical effects: first, the traditional ‘pairing’ system, whereby an MP from one party promises not to vote so a colleague from another party can attend their child’s school play or go to the dentist, is not up and running; second, the tensions helped to allow a delay in allocating Select Committee places to backbench MPs; and third, it increases the animosity and suspicion around the Government’s bid to control the Committee of Selection, which will play a vital role in getting Brexit-related legislation through the House.
More widely, it means that Government whips will never have a truly accurate count of Opposition MPs ahead of any given vote, so they will forever fear an ambush on even the most pedestrian issue. It sets a dangerous precedent for the Lords, too, as the Government’s minority is even more stark there – and if Peers can claim that a Bill has only garnered marginal support in the Commons, they will be all the more inclined to knock it down in the Upper House.