Teaching activity

Another good example of the use of Opposition Days

Mike McCartney

9th February 2021

How the legislature can use this mechanism for the purposes of executive scrutiny - with hat tip to one of my Year 12s

This vote was brought to my attention by one of my terrific Year 12s, Anuli. Every week I try to hold a 'Media Monday' session whereby students present a what, where, when, how and why report on a news item related to the A Level Politics course. This is designed to encourage students to keep abreast of developments in the subject.

The issue of unsafe cladding, brought to the public's attention because of the Grenfell disaster, was the subject of a vote tabled by the Labour Opposition.

I've blogged recently on another example of the successful use of this mechanism.

In late January I wrote about the planned changes to Universal Credit:

"Although there has been no official change in policy as this is written, as newspaper headlines have reported this week, the Prime Minister is reconsidering plans to cut £20 a week from benefits.

First what are Opposition Days?

According to the UK Parliament website:

“Opposition days are days allocated in the House of Commons for the discussion of subjects chosen by the opposition (non-government) parties. There are 20 days allocated for this purpose per session (under Standing Order 14).”

Source: Opposition days - UK Parliament

Generally, these days are seen as relatively unimportant because votes are whipped and given the government invariably has an in-built majority they almost always win, and the result of the vote is non-binding.

There are some exceptions to this, however. Quite a high-profile loss by the government of the day was back in 2009 when Gordon Brown’s government fell to a shock defeat on the rights of Gurkhas to remain in the UK. This then led to a volte face by the government.

See: BBC NEWS | Politics | Brown defeated over Gurkha rules"

On the housing issue, the Tories abstained again and so Labour carried the vote by 263-0.


As mentioned before, this vote is non-binding by it does put pressure on the Prime Minister. But the point is that the government rarely loses votes during Opposition Days because they invariably have an in-built majority. So to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose once is unfortunate, to lose twice looks like carelessness.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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