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MPs Start To Regret Fixed Term Parliaments

Last Updated: Friday, May 16th, 2014

Amid all the kerfuffle over the AV referendum, nobody noticed that another, equally important, constitutional change was being introduced. If anyone considered fixed term parliaments, it was only to add it to the list of things given to the Lib Dems to keep them happy, and little more.

But fast-forward four years, and that change now defines our politics. Most of the Coalition Agreement has been implemented (where backbench insurrection didn’t intervene) and the cupboard is now bare.

The Queen’s Speech has been put back, and the fact that both Conservative and Lib Dem ministers are taking to the newspapers to list all the ideas their perfidious partner are blocking suggests that Her Majesty won’t have a lot to say when it does finally arrive.

With almost a year to go until the election, the legislative process is increasingly in stasis.  Labour accuses the Government of being a “zombie” – perhaps neglecting the fact that zombies are relentless and always hungry for more, whereas the Coalition is simply looking tired. At worst it means people get fractious (see relations between Michael Gove and David Laws for reference).

There is an opportunity and a danger here.

On the positive side, the gridlock offers a chance for the two parties to publicly draw some dividing lines. Each welcomes the opportunity to explain to the electorate how much better they are than their coalition partner. See, we want to clamp down on knife crime but they’re blocking it, the fools. Ah, but we want a mansion tax, and they won’t let us do it. Repeat ad infinitum.

That’s all well and good in the short-term game, and it allows Tory ministers to reassure backbenchers that it’s ok to be beastly to Clegg and co.

But it could pose a problem come the General Election. Cameron has a tightrope to walk – he must simultaneously show off the achievements of his premiership, while persuading voters that there is more to do. Too little of the former, and people will wonder what the point was. Too little of the latter, and they might be tempted to gamble on Labour again, or indulge in a howl of UKIP protest.

If the central message for 2015 is “let us finish the job”, he cannot afford for it to look as though the final year of the Coalition was spent doing very little. If the job isn’t yet complete, surely there should be the sound of hammering and the glint of welding torches coming from the Number 10 workshop, not the silence of an extended tea-break?

Conservative MPs have mixed feelings about the situation. They dislike action for action’s sake, and they’re enjoying having some extra time to campaign in their constituencies, rather than being shut away in Westminster. But the feeling of being legislatively becalmed troubles them, too, when they want as much ammunition as possible to fire in the coming election.

What seemed like a small piece of constitutional tinkering brought this situation about – MPs realise it now, but it may well be more difficult to undo than it was to create in the first place.

By Mark Wallace

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Cameron, Miliband and Farage make their pitch for ConHome readers’ votes

David Cameron MP: ‘I would not be Prime Minister of a government unless we could carry out our pledge of an in-out referendum.’ Read more: http://is.gd/4b3l14

Ed Miliband MP: ‘A One Nation Labour government will always seek to conserve and nurture what is best about Britain.’ Read more: http://is.gd/XJ4IBP

Nigel Farage MEP: ‘Next Thursday is your free hit against a deeply complacent and craven political establishment.’ Read more: http://is.gd/yDSOuY

Mohammed Amin: Pfizer and AstraZeneca belong to me (and my fellow shareholders)  ‘Even the British Labour Party eventually abandoned its shibboleth of Clause 4. Nevertheless I believe that in reality socialists still don’t understand that free-market capitalism makes everybody richer while socialism makes everybody poorer. However, what I find dispiriting is when intelligent Conservatives feel the need to kowtow to populist and socialist demagoguery.’ Read more: http://is.gd/PrVhiZ

Lord Ashcroft: In the first of my new national polls, the Tories lead by two points  For the first time in more than two years, the Conservatives are ahead in a national voting intention poll. The first of my weekly telephone surveys has found a two-point Tory lead: Conservative 34 per cent, Labour 32 per cent, Lib Dems 9 per cent, UKIP 15 percent.’ Read more: http://is.gd/RT6fYh

Paul Goodman: In which J.Alfred Prufrock MP has a strange encounter with Nick Clegg  ‘“Arrested!” he cried.  “Breach of official secrets! Sent to the tower!” A hideous cackle broke from the Deputy Prime Minister’s throat, like the death-rattle of a hamster.

“Cummings!” he screamed. “Cummings!  It’s over, do you hear? Over.  You’re history!  Meals will be free!  Money will be found!  Joint Opeds” – he howled – “will be written!” And the carved angels in the great hammerbeam roof seemed to strain downwards towards the two figures beneath them…’ Read more: http://is.gd/pVRNNr

Mark Wallace: Want a Tory victory in 2030? Fight to turn the North East blue  ‘The area may not be over-brimming with love for Toryism right now (even though it has far more Tory voters than many would assume), but it is a disastrous mistake to think that means it holds any huge enthusiasm for the Labour Party which has let it down for so long. Why would it? What have the Islington human rights lawyers and poe-faced miserablists of the modern Labour Party got to offer a place founded on hard work, innovation, community and wry humour?’ Read more: http://is.gd/ksUD14

Andrew Gimson: A profile of Dominic Cummings, friend of Gove and enemy of Clegg  ‘It has been said of Cummings that “you underestimate him at your peril”. He is exceptionally intelligent, without being exceptionally steady: a ruthless man who fights to win and is prepared to risk defeat. If he were a conventional careerist, he could be bought off, or persuaded to be patient in the hope of obtaining the reward of becoming an MP and a minister. Cummings is more dangerous than that.’ Read more: http://is.gd/77fR5Y

By Mark Wallace

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