Less legislation? Yes please

Initiativeitis – an ugly word for a regrettable phenomena. It is an often-criticised habit of government ministers of all parties always to be touting a new initiative backed up by a new piece of legislation in order to look like they are working hard and making a difference.

Yet speak to those who work in the frontline in public services, and complaints about too many new initiatives coming down from on high are widespread – again, regardless of which party is in government.

That is why talk about the current Coalition Government ‘running out’ of new legislation to put to Parliament is not bad news in my book. In itself, filling up Parliamentary debating time and our statute books with new acts, new clauses and new requirements is not a sign of making the country better.

I feel some sympathy for politicians always pressed to be seen to be doing something. After all, when was the last time you saw a political profile of a minister praising their inactivity, quoting public sector workers cheering them for having done very little?

Likewise, whilst political commentators love in abstract to bemoan the way ministerial careers are so dependent on being seen to be doing something all the time, when it comes to the crunch they criticise rather than praise if it looks like a Queen’s Speech might be a little shorter of content than we are previously used to.

That happened with the last Queen’s Speech and is happening again with the next one. Talk of limited volume of legislation triggers criticism from political commentators, not praise – even from those without a partisan axe to grind. It is as if less legislation is good, just not yet.

So if – as looks likely – the difficulties of agreeing legislation in a coalition government means few bills rushed through Parliament in the next year, I will continue to be out on a limb from the Whitehall punditry bubble and you should be too.

It would be rather better than the alternative, a packed legislative agenda which results in numerous errors, inadequate debate and then another wave of legislation to undo the previous mistakes, leaving all the while those working in the public sector to cope with ever-changing rules and demands.

Traditionally the last year before a general election sees a government pushing on with huge amounts of different initiatives, seeking to make as many political points as possible, setting the political agenda on its own terms and setting traps for their opponents. All good political fun – except of course legislation should be about rather more than that.

Which is one appeal of coalition government, where the exact opposite dynamic happens as the next general election approaches. Instead, the political tensions between the members of the coalition rise and it becomes harder to rush through legislation.

Rather than having a frenetic increasing in law making for the sake of politics, we will see a general easing off – and that is a good thing.

2 responses to “Less legislation? Yes please”

  1. Great analysis of why less legislation can be a good thing. The only bit I’d question is saying “a packed legislative agenda which results in numerous errors, inadequate debate” as it implies less legislation means better debate and therefore better legislation. I’m not so sure it does, although you’re absolutely right about those impacted by the legislation benefiting from less change.

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