The Conservative leadership election is in full swing as I write – but still with many weeks to go. We should know the final two candidates shortlisted by MPs next week, and over the summer Conservative party members will vote for which of those two will be elected leader, with the result announced on 5 September.
Or at least, that's what we think will happen. But Boris Johnson, appearing at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, seemed to suggest that might not be the case. He talked about a new leader being chosen by 'acclamation' rather than by members' votes. That's what happened when Theresa May was elected – when it came down to the final two, her rival, Andrea Leadsom, withdrew.
I don't know why Boris Johnson might think that could happen again. At the moment, the candidates are slugging it out in a pretty toxic manner, attacking each other's record and fitness for office – it's hard to see how any of them could withdraw gracefully in the final round. What's clear however is that whoever is chosen, none of the candidates has a clue (or cares) about how to address the frightening cost of living crisis and soaring inflation that will hit many families hard.
Meantime, the government is urgently ramming through some business (legislation to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol) while shoving other matters (the Online Safety bill and the Gambling white paper) into the long grass. This tells us a lot about Conservative priorities – no matter who becomes leader in the next few weeks.
The habit of shoving things into the long grass was also evident in a debate on Tuesday night. Four years ago, MPs agreed to embark on a major programme to restore and renew the Houses of Parliament, and that MPs would move out for a number of years in order for the substantial works needed to make the building safe and sound for future generations to take place. But now there's a proposal to look again at the idea of MPs staying put, and the work taking place around us.
Frankly, this is fantasy land. It will massively increase costs, and one report I have seen suggested it will mean it takes over half a century to complete the work. In the meantime, the building is literally falling apart – Monday's business started an hour late because water was leaking into the chamber – while the risks of fire, falling masonry, and asbestos escapes are too grave to overlook. The last time parliament had a major refurbishment, in the 19th century, it was after it had burnt down. I very much hope we don't need to face the same sort of disaster before we make progress this time.
Meantime, I was very pleased to co-sponsor a bill introduced by my colleague Liz Twist MP, proposing the introduction of an adjudicator to tackle labour exploitation in the fashion industry. I'm aware of a number of garment businesses located in my constituency, and I want guarantees that their workers are being treated properly.
And, following the commemoration event I hosted in Manchester cathedral last week to mark the 27th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, I was glad to be able to speak in a debate on the subject, and sign a book of commemoration in parliament. You can watch the debate at Parliamentlive.tv - House of Commons (after 12:26 pm) or read a transcript at https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-07-14/debates/CD37BDCB-D36D-43B8-B272-99B7F635F0CB/Srebrenica