A Political Life: Parliament still has two years to run, but what has the Coalition got to fill it?

At the moment, it’s the Empty Parliament – a legislative programme that is a void and an economic policy devoid of a strategy for growth

Share

In two years’ time, MPs will be packing up their offices for the general election.

Parliament has to be dissolved on Monday 13 April 2015 at the latest, but since the previous week is Easter week, it’s pretty likely that it will end on Wednesday 1 April (unless David Cameron decides to avoid PMQs on April Fool’s Day).

So the next few weeks are the vertical turning point of this Parliament. The Budget on Wednesday (after which Cameron has ensured that he will not face PMQs for a full four weeks) and the Queen’s Speech at the start of May are the last opportunity the Cameron-Osborne-Clegg team (I’ve always thought of them as triple-barrelled) has to recast the profile of this Parliament. Many previous parliaments have been given nicknames: the Short, the Long, the Addled, the Good, the Mad, the Merciless and the Parliament of Bats in 1426 (thus named because its members hated each other so much swords were banned, forcing them to bring staves and bats instead).

This one? Stalled probably sums it up. An economy bumping along. Ideas briefed and then dropped (alcohol pricing, leaving the ECHR). Ministers so at odds with one another that they cohere around nothing. Important legislation carried with a significant majority and then dropped (think Lords reform) or overturned (parliamentary boundaries). A Budget last year from which every major policy was dropped.

Or maybe it’s the Mean Parliament, with Conservative ministers deliberately inflicting the toughest cuts on the poorest and the most vulnerable, cutting benefits rates, slashing local authority budgets, forcing people in social housing to move home while providing a tax cut for millionaires. The Government’s parsimony has become a self-perpetuating prophecy as relentless attacks have depressed economic optimism. Mean begets mean.

At the moment, though, it’s the Empty Parliament – a legislative programme that is a void and an economic policy devoid of a strategy for growth, which is running at zero.

Next Wednesday, George Osborne needs to do something dramatic to transform that impression and Cameron needs to follow it up with something even more significant in the Queen’s Speech. Otherwise, it will go down as the Empty.

Last-minute and lazy legislation

Parliament keeps time well. Sessions start bang on and we finish on the dot – which is why this week has been so extraordinary. On Tuesday evening, the Government had to table its programme motion for the next day by the end of play, which came at exactly 7.52. At 7.40, a government whip was wandering around trying to find someone to keep the business going an extra 20 minutes by demanding that the House meet in private (which requires a leisurely vote). Why? Because they still hadn’t agreed what to table. In the end, they got their motion in at 7.42 pm.

On Thursday, we went through the same palaver. This time, the Government had to table its motion and its amendments on press conduct for Monday by 5.30. It didn’t do so until 5.10. This time, Labour span things out until 5.56 by moving that we meet in private.

So, on Monday, the Commons will have to decide whether and how to legislate for Leveson in just over two hours – and we will have to consider manuscript amendments. This is no way to run a whelk stall. How can Parliament possibly do its job properly when we have no notice of what’s being debated? We laud ourselves for our ancient traditions, but sometimes I think we’re the shabbiest, worst-prepared Parliament going.

No time to back off on alcohol pricing

I know some people will be fuming about this, and doubtless some papers will bang on about “the culture of drinking” in Parliament, but the news that Eric Joyce has been in a brawl again fills me with sadness. Alcohol is a great friend but a terrible master. Today’s MPs are actually a pretty abstemious bunch, and while this weekend’s Wales-England match will be a great event, a late start may cause many men to return home heavily tanked up. That way violence lies. All the more reason to bemoan the fact that Theresa May announced a minimum price per unit policy, but has now dropped it.

The Argentinian Pope’s unclear past

Where has Pope Francis come from politically? Just because you invoke St Francis of Assisi doesn’t make you a good guy. I was working for a human rights organisation in Argentina in 1986. Unlike in Chile, where the Catholic Church’s Vicaria de la Solidaridad had stood out resolutely against General Pinochet’s barbarous dictatorship, the church in Argentina had been so quiescent during the years of disappearances, child-snatching and torture as to be morally culpable.

Not even the murder of the saintly, left-wing Bishop of La Rioja, Enrique Angelelli, got so much of a murmur of disapproval from the then Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Juan Carlos Aramburu. And when democracy arrived again in 1983, what did Aramburu do? He dragged the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lujan (Argentina’s answer to Lourdes) to Buenos Aires to protest against the government’s plan to legalise divorce and his successor went on to demand that gays and lesbians be rehoused in a ghetto.

There was one moment of liturgical tragicomedy, when Aramburu was processing into the cathedral behind a young lad swinging a thurible. To get the incense swirling, the thurifer swung it through 360 degrees, clonked the cardinal on the head and knocked him out. Let’s hope Pope Francis will be different.

Twitter: @ChrisBryantMP

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A royal serving the nation

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prior to the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels last month  

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003