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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > August 2017 > Watch your backbenchers

Watch your backbenchers

Individual MPs are lobby fodder no longer. And in a hung parliament they can call the shots

Martha Gill is a political journalist

Not so long ago, a reader’s letter used to appear in broadsheets almost every week complaining that politicians were too obedient. They were sheep, the letter would grumble, too invested in their own careers to stand up to the party whips or speak their minds, voting through any half-baked nonsense ministers plonked in front of them. Whatever happened to those robust MPs of years past, who followed their consciences and would challenge their governments if it was the right thing to do? Bring them back!

Nobody writes that now. These days rebellions are so commonplace as to make governing nigh-on impossible. Just one week into her new parliament, Theresa May caved in to a revolt on abortion charges, meaning Northern Irish women coming to Britain will no longer have to pay. The rebelling Conservative backbenchers, backing Labour MPs, were so formidable that Philip Hammond was forced to interrupt his own speech at the despatch box to announce the u-turn—just hours earlier, the Department of Health had denied there was even a consultation on the question.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s August issue: Adam Tooze, Helen Thompson, Ben Chu, Julian Baggini, Tom Clark and Hepzibah Anderson reveal the secret history of the banking crisis and its impact over the last decade. Tooze examines the secret history itself, suggesting the work done to repair the world’s finances could mean another crisis is just around the corner. Chu asks why more people at the top of the banks that failed haven’t faced more serious repercussions, and Anderson shows how post-crash Britain has retreated into cosiness. Elsewhere in the issue Alison Wolf asks whether universities are doing any good, and David Goldblatt explores how the decision to take football off free-to-view television in Argentina could backfire for the government. Also in this issue: Kasia Boddy asks why writers are still addicted to watching boxing despite falling viewing figures, Andrew Dickson profiles Tom Stoppard, Stephen Bush explains how Jeremy Corbyn learned to compromise and David Omand outlines the cyber-security challenges facing the UK and the wider world.
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