Too many new laws and too little concern for real reform

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tony Blair's shopping list of new legislation, which will be unveiled in tomorrow's Queen's Speech, is a useful reminder that big is not necessarily beautiful. With a record 40 Bills lined up for the next parliamentary session, Mr Blair is obviously bent on conveying an impression of almost frenetic activity in government as he and his team unload a veritable avalanche of new laws on the country.

Tony Blair's shopping list of new legislation, which will be unveiled in tomorrow's Queen's Speech, is a useful reminder that big is not necessarily beautiful. With a record 40 Bills lined up for the next parliamentary session, Mr Blair is obviously bent on conveying an impression of almost frenetic activity in government as he and his team unload a veritable avalanche of new laws on the country.

Doubtless, the frantic pace is designed to remind the country that, having concentrated too much on foreign affairs, and on Iraq in particular, Mr Blair is now going to use his remaining time with us solving our domestic difficulties. The problem with such hyperactivity is that it is hard to see what any of it will achieve. Many of his Government's initiatives bear the hallmarks of government by focus group, or by spin, which is precisely what many people hoped Mr Blair had forsworn.

The Child Contact and Intercountry Adoption Bill, to name but one, looks suspiciously like a knee-jerk response to the high-profile campaigning of Fathers 4 Justice. Likewise, the Health Improvement Bill, with its pledges to tackle MRSA. No one denies that MRSA is a problem. The question is whether it really requires a new law, when better hospital management might be a simpler answer.

Then there is the Bill designed to outlaw religious hatred. Not only is it unpalatable as a restraint on free speech, but it also looks suspiciously like a gewgaw, designed to appease Muslim voters in those Labour-held constituencies whose MPs have been embarrassed by the Iraq war.

On top of these showy, populist and often apparently insincere measures, Mr Blair's shopping list includes several Bills that this newspaper believes rightly fell by the wayside during the last parliament. One such is the ill-conceived and misguided pledge to introduce ID cards. It may not be a bad idea in principle, but it has been drafted with far too little consideration.

Another bad Bill destined to make its reappearance is the jury trial reform Bill, which will dispense with the need to have juries in fraud cases.

In this torrent of new laws, driven by the politics of gesture, one searches for anything substantive. This is a pity, for if Mr Blair really wanted to leave his mark on the country and secure a place in history for anything other than Iraq, there is no shortage of important issues he could have tried to get to grips with. They begin with constitutional reform, electoral reform and the looming pensions crisis.

Only days ago, Mr Blair raised hopes of a different style of government when he said he was ready to listen more carefully to voters' concerns. How long ago that promise already seems, especially as it becomes clear what kind of listening Mr Blair had in mind. What it seems to involve is listening to a host of clamorous and often competing interest groups and palming a few of the noisier ones off with quick-fix laws aimed at showing that their gripes had reached the Prime Minister's attention.

We have been here before with these quickfire initiatives. Everyone remembers the pledge to frogmarch yobs off to cash machines and fine them on the spot for misbehaviour. Much of Mr Blair's legislative package seems to have been cobbled together on the same principle.

Andy Warhol famously suggested that we would one day live in a world where everyone was famous was 15 minutes. Under Mr Blair, we are edging towards a world in which we have a new law every 15 minutes. This was not what we meant when we asked Mr Blair to listen. What we wanted was not a glut of new laws, many of which will never be enforced anyway, but a few good ones that may stay the course. Fewer words, more thought, please, Prime Minister.

Comments