Democracy matters! An unsurprising claim from an MP, you may think.
But in an age when we’re often told people are switched off by politics, it’s vital we recognise the importance of having our say and celebrate our ability to effect change through politics.
People don’t always realise it, but whether it’s attending a protest or a march, joining an online campaign, signing a petition, contacting an MP, or writing to the Prime Minister, it’s all politics. Whether it’s campaigning on HS2 or the badger cull, on mental health issues or tax avoidance, people are more engaged on the issues which matter to them than they have ever been.
We can be guilty of taking our democracy for granted sometimes. I grew up in West Berlin when the Wall was still in place. I grew up knowing how lucky I was to live in a democracy, and saw what it meant to live under a dictatorship.
Compared to the dark days of the Cold War, the reasons why democracy matters now may not be so obvious. But a fundamental principle of our democracy is our ability to hold our elected government to account.
In Parliamentary terms, we’ve seen a revival in recent years of the power of the House of Commons to hold the executive to account. The impact of the Wright reforms, the election of Select Committee Chairs and the Speaker’s increased use of Urgent Questions has helped to put the House of Commons at the centre of the nation’s political life once again, scrutinising and challenging the executive in its policies and delivery.
As Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, we’ve made our own contribution to holding Government to account. Since our creation in June 2010, backbenchers have been able for the first time to bring forward debates of their choice, sometimes on subjects which the Government, and indeed Opposition, might prefer not to see discussed on the floor of the House.
Backbenchers have seized this opportunity to bring forward issues of personal concern and the range of bids before the Committee has highlighted the wide variety of interests and areas of expertise which exists across the House. The result of these impressive representations from MPs has been debates which are well-attended, topical, and of public interest. Backbench debates on high-profile issues such as Hillsbrough and the holding of a referendum on EU membership have grabbed the headlines but the House has also had the opportunity to consider many other important subjects too, such as child sexual exploitation, banking competition, mental health, beer duty, and the use of intercept evidence in courts and inquests.
These issues cut across party lines and are of great interest to people across the country. I hope the Committee continues to prove its worth to MPs and to the public, helping to make for a better Parliament and, ultimately, for better government too.
Natascha Engel is Labour MP for North East Derbyshire and Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. For Backbench Business news and updates, follow the Committee on Twitter @CommonsBBCom or visit www.parliament.uk/bbcom