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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Parliament's mojo moment

After one of its darkest periods, Parliament looks like it's got its mojo* back.

Yesterday, we saw the Home Affairs Committee subject some of Britain's most senior police officers to a Sweeney-style interrogation.

Today, the Commons is uniting to take the unprecedented step of telling a billionaire media mogul where to stick his bid for BSkyB (ie where The Sun don't shine).

Next week, the DCMS Committee hopes (just 'hopes' for now) to finally have Rupert Murdoch and his son James before them for the first time.

In another big boost to the power of the executive, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) looks like it will finally become a Parliamentary committee rather than a creature of Prime Ministerial patronage. It will have the power to require evidence from the spooks rather than just request it.

When you add in the new intake of expenses-clean MPs, the Backbench Business Committee's creation and the regular use of Urgent Questions by a reforming Speaker, we seem to have a Parliament in rude health again.

Of course, these may all be false dawns, but many MPs are hoping the sea change of recent days will endure.

I have to say that the Home Affairs Select's grilling of John Yates and Andy Hayman was one of the more effective of recent years. It wasn't pretty and there will be some qualms about the lack of respect for officers who - whatever their other shortcomings - have put their lives on the line for the public.

But at least the MPs - particulary the newbies Michael Ellis and Lorraine Fulbrook - had a strategy and asked some good questions. Andy Hayman complained to LBC today that he was treated 'like a bit of dirt', yet if he'd not been so glib he may well have avoided the worst car crash at a committee for years. Actually, it was more a multiple motorway pile-up than a car crash.

Whether it's the bankers, Tony Blair or News International in the witness chair, MPs have for years left hacks tearing their hair out as they miss the goal in select committees.

In fact when Kelvin McKenzie was once hauled before MPs, he made mincemeat out of them. As the Mirror's John Williams wrote at the time, it was like seeing a group of hamsters eaten alive by Freddie Starr. Thanks to newly assertive backbenchers, those days may well be over.

We're all licking our lips at the possible shootout at the OK Corral that would be Tom Watson versus Rupert Murdoch at the DCMS...if it ever happens.

Gordon Brown promised to put Parliament back in the heart of things, but as with much of his agenda he was distracted by other events.

Which is why today's other development, away from the Murdoch public hanging, is very, very significant. For the ISC to be made a Parliamentary committee is a major shift in power in the British establishment.

Instead of its members being appointed by the PM, it will be a proper body of Parliament at last. Its new power to roam far and wide in its subject matter, and its right to 'require' rather than just 'request' evidence from MI5, MI6 and others, could be truly groundbreaking.

For those of us who remember when ISC chairwoman Ann Taylor (who Hutton revealed to be extremely close to Tony Blair) first dismissed journalists' questions about WMD all those years ago, it's a truly refreshing moment.

Let's hope the glorious revolution continues.

 

*FOOTNOTE: I know, many will argue that Parliament never had a mojo to lose in the first place. But you get my drift.

 

 

 

 

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