The  Oxford Handbook of Modern British Political History, 1800-2000

Jonathan Parry writes:

The clue is in the name. Parliament is designed for talk – for the expression of opinion and criticism. Pundits, particularly in the 19th century, wrote about ‘parliamentary government’ as the nation’s pride and Britain’s gift to a less fortunate world, but they did not mean that Parliament should actually govern. It would zealously check an overmighty executive, and scrutinise hasty ideas, but was not in itself a decisive body. Only when its members were whipped into parties and marshalled by a government could it ever become so. The historical role of Parliament is as a brake on precipitate action, a mechanism for delaying laws and change until they seem likely to command consent and benefit the polity. Delay was also thought to minimise the risk of subsequent repeal. In 1864 Gladstone claimed that was why ‘we always progress, never retrace our steps.’

(LRB 18 April 2019)