Political

There is a bizarre political virility test for Government ministers

Here’s my piece for the latest edition of House Magazine about the forthcoming Queen’s Speech:

There is a bizarre political virility test for Government ministers. Only the most optimistic would think it has been killed off, but there are at least hopeful signs that the Queen’s Speech will see it continue to slumber.

The test has been about confusing new legislation (or even worse, a new logo) with getting results. Serious about tackling crime? Better put a new piece of legislation through Parliament. Keen on economic growth? Fire up another Bill. Want to improve education? Line up the clauses on a new Act, and throw in a rejigging of departmental structures on the side.

Far too often ministers have confused volume of legislation sent through Parliament with being a good minister. It is an oh-so-tempting trap to fall into, as shown by some of the daft criticisms of the last Queen’s Speech – seeking to equate the Government’s seriousness about economic policies with the number of Bills on the subject.

Thankfully, however, at least the Liberal Democrat part of the Government is sticking to sense, and rather than demanding huge numbers of pieces of new legislation, is concentrating on the successful implementation of policies already set out. Whether it is the pupil premium, the Green Investment Bank or the Green Deal, the need is not for more legislation on top of that already set out, it is for departments to concentrate on implementation. It is implementation that will turn those policies into green jobs, better chances in life, a healthier environment and lower inflation.

The main exception to this is pension reform. Liberal Democrats have long championed reforms such as the introduction of a single-tier pension, and in this area legislation is required. Its presence in the Queen’s Speech should be the big one for turning Lib Dem policy into reality.

The other big one will be an absence – the omission of plans to introduce a ‘snooper’s charter’. As Nick Clegg announced on LBC’s Call Clegg show, he has killed off the plans for a huge new online monitoring apparatus. There may be a small piece of legislation to tidy up the situation regarding matching up IP addresses with the person to whom they were allocated.

As more than one Liberal Democrat activist expressed it to me, in language of varying fruitiness, after the LBC appearance: “Thank you Nick. And thank goodness you got that one right.”

Alongside civil liberties, political reform is another area dear to many Liberal Democrats. Results there have been rather thin so far, but members are hoping that measures will feature again this time, most likely on the recall of MPs and lobbying reform.

They are of course overshadowed by the question of economic growth. But the answer to that lies in the work at the Treasury and the Bank of England, and not the statue book. A good Queen’s Speech won’t pretend otherwise, nor will it confuse volume of new legislation for the lower-key yet more important implementation of existing policies.

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