James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire - Pupils left me pondering on ‘happy llama’ speech

While I dislike all coalitions (and this one is no exception), since the compromises which they demand deliver to the voter something quite different to either party’s manifesto, I nonetheless believe that a small government majority in the House of Commons is good for democracy, since it strengthens the hand of the backbencher.

A small majority (or even no majority at all) means that the leadership (and the Whips’ Office) have to be aware of backbench opinion.

It’s happened again this week. I was one of those who supported Tim Loughton’s amendment to the Finance Act which would give a tax break to married couples.

The Whips had a word with me last week; I reiterated my determination to support the measure; and by the weekend the Prime Minister was saying how much he agreed, and how he would be bringing proposals forward in the autumn.

Tomorrow we have the Second Reading of James Wharton’s private members bill which writes the promised In/Out referendum on the EU into law.

It seems just the other day that the whips were telling me it couldn’t be done, forcing me to vote against yet another three-line whip.

It is bizarre that the only party who actually promised such an In/Out referendum in their manifesto at the last election, trumpeting their love of democracy – namely the Lib Dems – are now opposed to such a referendum.

Ignoring a sworn manifesto commitment seems to be habit-forming, and it undermines democracy.

Why both they and Labour are not prepared to allow the people any say on our membership of the EU baffles me. I can only conclude that they are scared of what the outcome of such a referendum may be. This Bill gives the PM great strength to his arm in the renegotiation of the terms of our membership which he has promised.

The electorate will remember the Lib Dems’ spineless Euro-fanaticism at the General Election in less than two years time.

The bright Year 6 children at Malmesbury Primary School who I visited on Friday had some interesting questions for me about the referendum, and whether or not a similar principle could be used elsewhere – for example with regard to Malmesbury’s controversial supermarket applications.

They set me a challenge – to get the words ‘happy llama’ into a speech in the House of Commons, and hence into Hansard. I will keep you up to date on what is a truly difficult challenge.

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