Queen’s Speech: A timely reminder of how incompetent the Tories are

"The real reason the government is struggling to pass legislation is because it is inept"
"The real reason the government is struggling to pass legislation is because it is inept"
Ian Dunt By

We all spend a lot of time now dwelling on the various inadequacies of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, so it's useful to remind ourselves of how staggeringly inept the Conservatives are too. The Queen's Speech provides exactly that opportunity.

Remember this time last year? The Tories had just won a majority, against all expectations. David Cameron unveiled his 100 days initiative, an attempt to make the most of the rocket-booster post-election period. And what did he accomplish? Very little indeed.

New analysis from the Institute for Government shows just how inept the Conservatives are at getting their legislation through. Last year's Queen's Speech was the busiest since 2007, when Gordon Brown became prime minister, with a total of 26 bills being presented. Just 13 of them became law (although a further eight managed to get royal assent before the end of the session) giving the Tories a total of 23.

That's low. There have only been three parliamentary sessions since 1997 with fewer government bills passing into law. So lots of proposals, but few of them making it onto the statute book.


As the Institute says, this could be because the parliamentary session was shorter, but that doesn't work here. If you divide up legislation passed by sitting days you get 0.14 bills receiving royal assent per day - or one every week on average. It's still very low.

The real reason the government is struggling to pass legislation is because it is inept. Over the last year it has delayed, rowed back or U-turned on countless issues, like personal independence payments, tax credits, child refugees, forced academisation and Sunday trading, to name just a few. It is inept in selecting the goals it sets out to achieve, inept in writing the legislation to achieve them and inept at maximising its leverage in parliament to do so.

Take the plan to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British bill of rights. It was a major announcement in the first 100 days initiative. But why? Cameron had already been informed in no uncertain terms that it was logically meaningless and legally catastrophic to push ahead. You can't 'return' power to English courts while maintaining the role of the Strasbourg court, as the European Convention on Human Rights entails. And anyway, the Supreme court is already supreme, it's parliament which must 'take account' of Strasbourg.

The whole thing is a nonsense cooked up by dimwitted Tory backbenchers and hysterical tabloid editors. But Cameron went for it again, and lo-and-behold, it once again went nowhere. It is now reduced to the status of a consultation in this Queen's Speech. Meanwhile, experts are pointing out that enacting it might unravel the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement, which all-in-all seems a sub-optimal outcome given it does not accomplish anything in return. Pop in your time machine and fast forward to this time next year. It still won't have happened.

But even where the goals are sound, or at least respectable, the legislation is written in such a dreadful manner that it is either torn apart in the Commons or by the police once it has left. Take the psychoactive substances bill in last year's Queen's Speech. Because there is cross-party agreement on drugs, it was passed with a minimum of fuss, although even here the government managed to get itself on the wrong side of a debate about poppers, during which it transpired it did not understand, and could not define, the thing it was trying to ban. The Act was then delayed past its April 6th date while police and the Home Office try to work out what it is they have done. Grab that time machine again and shoot forward a year. There will have been few prosecutions, if any.

But perhaps the most glaring area of government ineptitude comes in its inability to handle parliament. It has been defeated three times in the Commons and over 50 times in the Lords.

As another report by the Institute for Government found, much of this is the result of basic parliamentary mismanagement: a lack of communication with the whips, a lack of consultation with MPs, and a lack of sense of the priorities in the legislative programme.

These deficiencies are self-created. Yes, the government has a slim majority, but then it knows that. And yet instead of carefully thinking about what bits of legislation it could get through parliament with the carefully-picked cooperation of opposition parties, it tries to bulldoze its way through.

Corbyn is not part of the problem. He is part of the solution. During the Syria vote, 66 Labour MPs voted with the government. The Tories could drive a wedge between moderate and loyalist Labour MPs, but instead they push ahead with programmes which unite Labour briefly in opposition. Academies are a perfect example. It was originally a New Labour policy. It should be simple to keep Tories on board and divide Labour down the middle. Instead, by sloppily drawing up plans for universal academisation regardless of performance, they unite Labour on the issue and divide their own MPs.

It's the ramshackle nature of the legislation which has motivated the House of Lords, where the Conservatives are outnumbered, to vote down so much of it. The government's response to this is not to write better legislation but to vandalise the constitutional arrangements between the two Houses and make it impossible for peers to tackle statutory instruments - a legislative hoodwink which already has precious little scrutiny to it. Wherever there is a problem, they try to bulldoze their way through. They never try to think their way out.

Instead of uniting their party, the Tories have gone into open hostilities with themselves. Cameron has alienated much of his parliamentary party with his high-handed and occasionally brutal approach to the EU referendum debate. And that's on top of the fact that he's always treated his backbenchers with a hefty dollop of disdain. Even as an election winner, he had precious little political capital to bank with them in the first place. Now he has none.

These are problems of the Conservatives own making. If they were less excitable upon winning the election, thought carefully about the proposals they were putting forward, and proceeded in a way which maximised their chances of success, they might already have an impressive legislative portfolio to point at. Instead, the only thing which makes them look broadly competent is the fact the opposition is even worse.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners

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