Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Poison pills and living wills

Poison pills and living wills

The Queen’s Speech is usually most noticeable for the slight grimace of distaste that crosses her Majesty’s face as she is compelled to churn through the various empty and unmelodious phrases that New Labour has adapted from the worst of management speak and PR puffery.  This year, however, it is something else that has caught the eye.

The Government is trying, in its dying days, to control Parliament from beyond the electoral grave.  In the seven minutes that her Majesty was speaking, three of the prospective bills announced were explicitly designed to tie the hands of the next Government.

Fiscal Responsibility Bill
The Bill aims to put the government’s deficit reduction plan on a statutory footing in order to halve the budget deficit in 4 years.  Details to be set out at the Pre-Budget Report.

Child Poverty Bill
The Bill enshrines in law the Government’s commitment to end child poverty by 2020.

International Development Spending (Draft Bill)
The Draft Bill would ensure that the Government spends 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on Overseas Development Aid from 2013.

It should, of course, go without saying that these Bills are constitutionally meaningless.  No Government has the power to insist on the policies of its successor.  Further, they are deliberately mischief-making.  With regard to the first, this Government has accelerated the increase of the deficit to record levels, and has decried any calls for its reduction as ‘Tory cuts’.  With regard to the second, the Government is already on course to miss its 2010 targets, and has not indicated how it intends to meet targets for 2020.  The third is less obviously hypocritical, but since the Tories have pledged to match Labour spending on Overseas Aid, it is unnecessary as well as being unconstitutional.

The dirty politics angle is clear too – all these are designed to make the Tories sound bad for opposing them.  I suspect, however, that this is too obvious a heffalump trap for Cameron to fall into.  Indeed, his early response of rubbishing the entire programme as electioneering claptrap suggests that this scheme might rebound on Labour just as so many other ‘clever’ ideas have.

As a final illustrative side-note on Gordon Brown the master tactician, here’s a snapshot from the Guardian.

We've seen footage of Gordon Brown and David Cameron walking side by side to the Lords. Brown is talking, but we can't tell what he's saying. Apparently he just talks, without giving Cameron a chance to answer back, so that he looks dominant in the TV pictures.

Only a few more months…


Anonymous Pat said...

Presumably if, after the election, acts were passed binding future governments to - say maintain a balanced budget, Respect Habeus Corpus, re-instate the bill of rights, compel the hanging of all labour party members- Mr Brown on re-election would feel bound to comply. After all he has implicitly denied that no parliament can bind its successor.

11:26 pm  

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