It comes to something when the measure in the Queen’s Speech which grabs most headlines is a 5p plastic bag tax. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, there would be between 18 and 23 bills in the Gracious speech. In this one there were eleven. Now, don’t get me wrong: I rather like the fact that there is less legislation. I certainly don’t want legislation for legislation’s sake, but the trouble with this Queen’s Speech was that it gave the impression of a government which is tinkering around the edges rather than getting to grips with some of big issues facing the country.
Given the results of the European elections, I still cannot quite understand why there wasn’t a Government bill to legislate on a European Referendum in 2017. Ah, say Conservative politicians, this is a Coalition Queen’s Speech, and the Liberal Democrats would never agree to it. Well, bloody put them on the spot then. Make a big song and dance of it, and force them publicly to veto it. It’s called politics.
This has not been a good week for David Cameron’s euro-diplomacy. It looks more and more likely that Britain’s arch-nemesis, Jean Claude Juncker, will become the new President of the European Commission. If so, I am pretty sure which box my vote will go in come 2017. His appointment will give plenty of ammunition to UKIP, which persists in claiming that Cameron won’t be able to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU. After all, if he can’t stop Juncker climbing to power, how on earth will he persuade his fellow EU leaders to give in on anything major? There is now more than a small chance that if he wins the election he could bring forward the In/Out vote, and carry it out on the terms of our current membership. Serve the EU right if he did.
On Tuesday I have the honour of doing a half hour long interview with Norman Tebbit, one of my political heroes. I have met him on a couple of occasions before, and have always been struck by his wonderful sense of humour and glorious wit. He came in to talk about his new children’s novel which is about a disabled boy and his relationship with a golden Labrador called Ben, but naturally he strayed onto present day politics and his memories of the 1980s. I won’t give away too much, but he did anoint a future leader of the Conservative Party during the interview, and it was a surprising name. I suspect when the interview is broadcast at 7.30pm on LBC in two Fridays’ time, it will grab a couple of headlines.
By the way, if you’re doing nothing better at 7.30pm this evening (Friday 6th), do listen to LBC, as I’m interviewing the redoubtable Baroness Trumpington. And next week at 7.30, John Campbell will talk about his biography of Roy Jenkins.
I was interested to see that Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader, was bitterly complaining that there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of devolving tax-raising powers to Scotland. I’d say that tweet betrayed his deep insecurity about the result of the independence referendum. After all, if Scotland votes for independence there will be no need to for such a massive shift in powers anyway. But imagine if the Queen had mentioned it. He’d no doubt have complained about interference by the Westminster government in advance of the referendum. With the Nats, you just can’t win.
This week, a Nigerian lady called Afusat Saliu was deported back to Nigeria along with her two small daughters. She had fought deportation on the grounds that she feared she would be killed by Boko Haram (she had converted to Christianity from Islam) ,and that her daughters could well be subjected to female genital mutilation. She had been forced to undergo it by her family before she came to this country. Appeal after appeal was made to the Home Secretary and to Norman Baker, the LibDem Home Office Minister. The appeals came to nothing, and on Wednesday she was sent back to Nigeria. The LibDems make a big deal out of the fact that they have been behind moves to stop this barbaric practice, yet one of their senior ministers has been complicit in sending little girls back to Nigeria to be potentially brutalised. One can only hope the ministers are right, and the mother’s fears prove misplaced. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in Baker’s shoes if events turn out differently. Lynne Featherstone will have his balls for souvenirs.
Hurrah! Tower Hamlets has completed its election count, which according to the council was carried out in an exemplary fashion, and other councils would do well to copy them. Lol. This week, there has been an interesting development. Andy Erlam, who stood for the council under the Red Flag Anti-Corruption Party, has launched an election petition in the High Court. If successful, the whole mayoral election could be re-run. Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets’ Mayor, consistently refuses to come on my radio show to be held to account. Instead, last week he offered himself to another LBC sho … hosted by his good friend and tummy-tickler in chief, Ken Livingstone. Ken’s co-presenter David Mellor made a valiant attempt at pinning Rahman down, but he left the studio unscathed – since, at every point, Ken would intervene with a comment like: “Oh it must be terrible for you, Lutfur, all these people smearing you.” “Oh yes, it is,” replied the mayor. Would I have been any more successful? Rahman’s cowardliness means we’ll probably never know.
As readers of my old blog will know, there’s nothing I like more than a list. So here are my Top Ten Bills Which Weren’t in the Queen’s Speech But Should Have Been.
- Police Commissioners (Abolition of, Especially in Kent) Bill.
- Increase in the 40 per cent tax threshold to £75,000 Bill.
- Liberal Democrats (Abolition of) Bill.
- European Referendum (on 5 May 2016) Bill.
- Church of England (Disestablishment of) Bill.
- Inheritance Tax (Abolition of) Bill.
- Ed Miliband (Endangered Species, Protection Of) Bill.
- Amazon.com Inc (Force them to pay tax) Bill.
- Joanna Lumley (Listed status) Bill.
- The eBook (Eliminination of VAT) Bill.