The Leader of the House is both a partisan Cabinet Minister, and the voice of the minority parties in government. Successful Leaders of the House take the second role seriously, and speak up in government to ensure fair play for the minority, insisting on proper time for debate and examination of the Executive on things the Opposition is unhappy with or where it has a differing view.
I have not been a fan of Ms Harman in this role, as she has failed to allow the Opposition to use the Thursday so called topical debates to highlight the issues that we think are topical, she has failed to get many of her colleagues to make their statements to Parliament first, and in some cases has failed to get statements or debates at all. It is difficult to have much confidence in a Leader of the House who cannot ensure a proper debate on a large budget which is slipped out masquerading as a technical Statement.
Yesterday however I felt some sympathy for her. She was asked exactly the question a Cabinet Minister fears – do they have confidence in someone who is currently in the news? If she had given a ringing endorsement of the Speaker she would be concerned that the government was forced into giving a running commentary on the health of the Speaker’s position, which is not something many would welcome. Most of us want a Speaker who is above all that, and who is not beholden to the Executive for support. She was also conscious that there is going to be a debate on Monday about the Damian Green affair, where the House will hear a range of very different views. She seemed aware that she had to speak for the whole House, and the whole House has not yet spoken on this matter.
The Speaker himself has shown wisdom in granting the Opposition a debate on the Budget that pretended not to be a budget, and granting a debate on the important issue of Damian Green. Both he and Ms Harman have to give the Opposition its days in court on the big issues of our time. When they do this with a good grace they will draw strength from having cross party support.