“Alice looked round her in great surprise. ‘Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!’”
We have a Speaker who makes up the rules to suit himself – and thwart Brexit. A real Prime Minister, Oliver Letwin, who seizes control of the Order Paper when it suits him, but is not questioned at the despatch box, nor subject to any accountability mechanism. A Bill with major constitutional implications – the Benn Act – rammed through Parliament in a few days. A Supreme Court that believes Parliament to be synonymous with the legislature. And MPs who are unwilling to submit themselves to the verdict of the people.
Given this Lewis Carroll-like Westminster, we should not be at all surprised by a Queen’s Speech with Bills that almost certainly will never be considered and not become law – at least, not this side of a general election.
Which is what we have today, and in a sense those sympathetic to the Government and Boris Johnson should not complain. The 22 Bills that the Queen will describe today with have the upside of publicity without the downside, from Ministers’ point of view, of scrutiny – a little of which for them goes a very long away indeed.
A Government can stay in office for a very long time without much of a majority at all. Harold Wilson won a majority of only three in 1974. Nonetheless, his administration lasted the best part of five years. But what governments in such a position cannot do is pass much legislation of any real significance. There are currently 288 MPs in receipt of the Conservative whip. Add ten DUP ones and you have 298 votes at the Government’s disposal. That is not the basis for passing very much at all.
Consider, for example, the sensible and overdue plan to ensure that those who cast votes can actually prove who they are. (Hats off to Peter Golds for hammering away at this issue on ConservativeHome.)
And credit too to Eric Pickles for his 2016 report, which explored ways of tackling electoral fraud. All the same, the Government doesn’t have the kind of stable majority which would guarantee getting the proposal through. So too with Priti Patel’s flagship law and order bills, or Grant Shapps’ reforms of rail franchising – or almost anything else.
What Boris Johnson and his team have set out at home – as his Brexit negotiating proposals apparently hang in the balance abroad – is a Dominic Cummings-type programme with a strong emphasis on the NHS, an Australian-style points-based immigration system, and tougher sentencing, seasoned with a dash of Johnsonian greenery.
Voters tend to hate elections, but the place to put these proposals to the test is at the ballot box, where they can be endorsed or rejected – not to a Parliament apparently determined to do little other than delay Brexit, while continuing to draw its salaries and expenses.
The final twist in this Through the Looking Glass tale would be were the speech to be defeated….and MPs to carry on as though nothing at all had happened, with a Government yearning to be no confidenced and an Opposition refusing to oblige.
‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’