As the first ballot papers for the Labour elections drop through Party members’ letterboxes this morning, the claims being made by those candidates up for election appear to be getting more pointed.
Oona King, who is hoping to beat previous incumbent Ken Livingstone to the nomination for Labour’s candidate for the Mayor of London, wrote in a recent campaign leaflet that her record as a backbench MP trumped that of either Mr Livingstone or the current Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson.
Ms King argued: “All three of us were backbench MPs, but only one of us changed the law. And I didn’t just change the law once, I changed it five times.”
So is the former Bethnal Green and Bow MP’s record as impressive as this sounds?
Full Fact contacted the House of Commons Information Office, who informed us that the legislation that Ms King refers to were Private Members’ Bills introduced whilst she was a sitting MP between 1997 and 2005.
As we showed last month, changing the law from the backbenches with a Private Members’ Bill is no mean feat, with the House of Commons guide stating that only a “minority” ever make it to the statute books.
For a single MP to be successful with five Bills over eight years would indeed be remarkable. However Ms King’s role in the legislation she highlights is not as clear cut as she suggests.
Ms King was indeed responsible for introducing the Local Authority Tenders Bill in 1998, for which she received praise from both sides of the House. The Bill met with little resistance, with the opposition spokesman Eric Forth noting that Ms King “obviously does her homework, too – extraordinarily thoroughly.”
For the other four Bills referenced by Ms King however, it seems the former backbencher may have overstated her case.
For instance, the legislation to “give families in overcrowded housing greater protection” which Oona King claims as her own was actually proposed by Andrew Love MP, with Ms King providing a supporting signature.
This is also the case for the Regulation of Childcare Providers Bill (proposed by Geraint Davies in 2002) and the Employment of Children Bill (Chris Pond, 1997). Ms King did author a second Private Members Bill – the Wheel Clamping (Restrictions) Bill – however this was lost in the wash-up before the 2001 election.
So how does this record stack up against those of her rivals for the capital’s Mayorality?
Ken Livingstone arguably had greater success in effecting change.
Whilst he sponsored a number of unsuccessful Private Members’ Bills such as Tony Benn’s Re-Establishment of Free Trade Unionism and Local Authorities (General Powers) Bills in 1998, he also introduced the 1990 London Local Government Bill with Bermondsey Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes and former Brent North Tory Rhodes Boyson, which later became the 1991 London Local Government Act.
Similarly, Livingstone sponsored Bob Cryer’s Control of Inception Bill in 1988, which aimed to limit access to private data. Although defeated, elements of the Bill were included in the 1988 Privacy Act.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that whilst Oona King served as an MP between 1997 and 2005, when Labour enjoyed sizeable majorities, Ken Livingstone sat mainly on the Opposition benches during his tenure, tasting Government only as a peripheral figure prior to his expulsion from the Labour Party in 2000.
This is similarly the case for the present Mayor, Boris Johnson, who served as an MP between 2001 and 2008, when his Conservative Party were greatly outnumbered in the Commons.
Whilst the former member for Henley put his name to a number of Private Members’ Bills, including George Osborne’s Performance of Private Hospitals Bill of 2002 and the 2003 European Communities (Regulations) Bill, his efforts were hampered by the ease with which Labour Whips could command a majority.
So whilst Oona King’s role in pressing for legislative change should not be underplayed, she does not necessarily find herself in the unique situation she claims.
In the Local Authorities Tenders Bill she can justly claim to be the only one of the three contenders for the City Hall top job to have authored an Act on the Statue Book, however Ken Livingstone was instrumental in effecting legislative change in coalition with other MPs.
That this is the case has as much to do with the different political environments in which each candidate served than any other factor.