Michael Brown: A waste of Her Majesty's time – and Parliament's

The lawto cut the deficit is as pointless as proposing when the sun should shine
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The Independent Online

"My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I know this speech is a complete waste of my time – and yours. I will have to return in 26 weeks' time (although I know many of you in the Commons will not) when my new government will at least have a mandate to introduce a programme for a full Parliament – backed by the authority of my people.

"Nevertheless, this fag-end Government has made me read out what the Leader of my loyal Opposition has already described as a 'Labour press release written on palace parchment'. While my present Government's top priority is to try to win the next general election, I suspect that with less than 70 sitting days available to you, few of these measures will actually receive my Royal Assent."

Those were the thoughts that might have been in the mind of Her Majesty as she read out the words, yesterday, stuffed into her mouth by Gordon Brown. Of course the Queen's Speech was the unofficial start of the general election campaign, with Gordon Brown trying to set land mines around the Tories – should they dare to frustrate the passage of Bills such as those to provide free personal home care for the elderly and disabled, and to "guarantee" specific educational standards to be achieved by pupils.

I suspect, however, that David Cameron is already far too experienced a political operator to fall into such traps and will give broad support for such measures – in the certain knowledge that parliamentary time will run out in the House of Lords by the time of the dissolution next spring.

He will be able to say to voters anyway that, if elected, he has a far more radical set of reforms dealing with long-term care for the elderly, based on the insurance principle, who will no longer have to sell their homes to fund residential care. And his education policies, allowing voluntary groups to be given state cash to set up new schools, are more likely to raise educational standards than yet another Labour education Bill that will change nothing for parents and pupils between now and the general election.

As for a law to cut the deficit by half, within four years, Mr Brown might just as well also have introduced a measure proposing on what days the sun should shine. We have had Treasury guidelines regarding borrowing that were forgotten the second the going got rough. Simply passing a law – rather than sticking with Gordon Brown's so-called "golden rules" – changes nothing unless we see detailed cuts in public expenditure and further tax increases this side of the election.

In any event, what would be the legal penalties for failure? I can't quite see the Chancellor being jailed should he fail to achieve the objective. In the meantime the deficit will balloon until polling day with Labour continuing to rack up more debt far in excess of the limit on the national credit card.

The Tories should have little difficulty in ridiculing the deficit reduction Bill along with the proposals for the FSA to address obscene bankers' bonuses as pure window dressing. Insofar as the Government can make a case for such legislation these Bills are required to clean up the mess of the Government's own making. "Who created the deficit and the circumstances which allowed the banks to pay out obscene bonuses in the first place?" is a rhetorical question the Tories will ask at every stage during the the passage of these Bills.

If the remaining weeks of the current session are to serve any constructive purpose, the ideas advanced by Nick Clegg this week in The Independent should have been considered. This rotten Parliament – which will go down in history as the "moat" or "manure" Parliament – could redeem itself by addressing some outstanding issues of constitutional reform relating to the voting system and the House of Lords that are bound to be buried by other legislative priorities once the election is over. Sadly, the opportunity to bequeath such a legacy has been lost by Mr Brown's unseemly desire to abuse the purpose of the Queen's Speech.