Pick and mix your allocation of blame between some Tory right-wing MPs and some political journalists, between deliberate deceit and genuine confusion as you wish, but as the dust settles on yesterday’s political stories about the Queen’s Speech the news is remarkably dull:
- A Bill that was not going to be in the Queen’s Speech will not be in the Queen’s Speech, and
- A Bill that was going to be in the Queen’s Speech will be in the Queen’s Speech.
Or in other words, ignore the nonsense about how the absence of an equal marriage Bill from the Queen’s Speech means the government is backing away from it. The plan never was for the Bill to be in this Queen’s Speech, which is after all why the current Home Office consultation on the issue does not close for a couple of months yet. (Have you taken part in it? If not, you can do so online here.)
There will be no u-turn on equal marriage – we are committed as a government to legislate by 2015.
As for Lords reform, that too is proceeding as planned – which means that it will be in the Queen’s speech. Ministers have been saying, shock horror, that the economy is the most important issue at the moment and so in that sense Lords reform is not the “centrepiece” of the government’s plans for the next year. Hardly objectionable, hardly surprising and hardly news.
Even the keenest on Lords reform, such as myself, happily agree that the economy comes first – but simply add the even more obvious point that there is rather more to what the government can do than simply one Bill. Lords reform does not stop a myriad of other actions (especially on the economy where getting new legislation through Parliament is a relatively small part of what can or should be done).
As Nick Clegg puts it today, there are three priorities for him in the coming year – of which number three is political reform:
The historic mission of liberals is to stand up for ordinary people against vested interests. Our radicalism is needed as much as ever. Reining in the banks. Reforming party funding to get the big money out of politics. Cleaning up the media: every Lib Dem can be proud of the part we played in setting up the judge-led Leveson inquiry. And, yes, injecting some democracy into the House of Lords. For more than a century, we have been debating the commonsense idea that the people who obey the laws of the land should elect the people who make them. Instead of getting ourselves tied up in knots in Westminster about this, we just need to get on with it.
I suspect we may get plenty more of this ‘no news’ news served up in the coming months. Whether mischief-making political opponents are encouraged to try that on more and more will be governed by whether journalists swallow the stories and also by how Liberal Democrats react. We can’t control the journalists, but whether our reactions encourage more mischief-making in the future is very much up to us.