The Prime Minister likes to say that Partygate is a distraction and for once I agree with the man. Of course it is. The entire shemozzle takes attention away from more important matters such as the cost of living crisis. More importantly, it distracts us from the Government’s lack of ideas on how to improve the lives of ordinary folk.
Every day we seem to get new scandals but when you look past them, you find a government that is empty of ideas. It passes laws to punish its opponents and protect it from scrutiny, while doing absolutely nothing about that which threatens the well-being of the public.
The cabinet meeting earlier in the week was a case in point. It was one of those political events which reveals much more than it wanted to I am afraid. Bunter Johnson took the unusual step of briefing journalists beforehand about what he was going to tell ministers. He wanted his loyal yes-men and women to do ‘everything possible’ to help with living costs and explore ‘innovative ways’ to provide support.
What sort of nonsense was this? It made no sense but the intention was clear. Get away from Partygate and focus on the ‘things that matter’ – to Bunter at any rate. It was successful too in that It brought those things firmly into focus.
We are over a year into the inflationary surge which followed the Coronabug epidemic. But even before then, many experts were warning about what was coming. Lockdowns across the world had created a global supply chain crisis, with factories and ports closing or radically restricting capacity. At the same time, demand was proving completely unpredictable. People had lost the ability to spend on nights out in pubs or restaurants, so instead they were splashing out on things like sofas, playstations, fancy carpets etc. When supply is reduced and demand increases, you get inflation.
Most of us have been aware of this for a long time and yet it was only this week that our revered leader even bothered to ask his Cabinet to come up with ideas. But – and it was a big but – none of these ideas were allowed to cost any money. Johnson was clear that ministers restricted their proposals to ‘non-fiscal measures.’ In other words, they couldn’t offer any money to address a problem involving lack of money.
Yet it is not as if the Government does not pass any legislation. Before the prorogation of Parliament a couple of days ago, a number of bills were rammed through in a desperate attempt to wrap them up without too much debate or scrutiny. The problem is that none of these bills are intended to help peoples’ lives. On the contrary nearly all of them are designed to silence or constrain the perceived ‘enemies’ of this shower of a government.
The Policing Bill was passed after it had been returned by the Lords who had tried to get it redrafted. This bill is designed to silence protests, even if there is only a single protester. That would include the anti-Brexit demonstrator who has irritated ministers outside Parliament for the last few years.
The bill hands police the power to impose punishing restrictions on demonstrations where the ‘volume’ might potentially alarm a single person or interfere with the work of a nearby organisation. So, that means the Government has handed police the ability to close any protest at any time. I wonder whether this will apply to the eco demonstrators holding the unfortunate public to ransom. Somehow I doubt it.
The Judicial Review bill was also hurriedly pushed through. This takes aim at one of the great mechanisms of British justice – the right of a citizen to take ministers to court. This was born from Johnson’s own frustration when the Supreme Court ruled his prorogation of parliament unlawful in 2019. The Justice Secretary at the time, Robert Buckland set up an Independent Review of Administrative Law in July 2020 to try and take on the judges. But that didn’t work and the subsequent report concluded that the judicial review was working well. The Government pushed ahead anyway, with legislation ring-fencing certain ministerial decisions from consideration by the High Court.
Meanwhile, the Elections Bill, which is currently ricocheting between the Lords and the Commons, takes aim at the Electoral Commission, an organisation that Number Ten has been trying to silence since it fined Vote Leave for overspending during the Brexit referendum.
This bill gives ministers the ability to control the watchdog. It does this by granting the Speaker’s committee, which includes secretaries of state, the power to issue guidance to the Commission – both on general strategy and specific cases. This is surely the action of a banana republic rather than a modern democracy.
The bills pushed through this week seem more like a revenge strategy against those who were insufficiently obsequious after the Brexit result – the Electoral Commission, the courts, even a solitary demonstrator standing outside Westminster. They are an attempt to insulate the government from challenge, either by protestors, or independent watchdogs, or the judiciary.
But when it comes to helping people, this government has nothing to say. There is no legislation. There are no late-night attempts to get something on the statute book. There is no ping-pong with the Lords. There’s no money, or attention or even policy. Just the pitiful sight of an inept Prime Minister asking the Cabinet to come up with some ideas that don’t cost anything.
So for once I have to admit that Bunter Johnson was right. Partygate is indeed a distraction. It has focused attention on his lying and lawbreaking, rather than the moral vacuum of his legislative agenda.
Elsewhere the general madness persists. Lancashire County Council – bless ‘em – are insisting that town and parish authorities test all their lampposts in case they are unable to take the strain of bunting at the Jubilee! No, that is not a belated April Fool joke. As the cost for inspecting each lamppost is £55, some councils are deciding to dispense with decorations altogether which is such a shame for ordinary folk. Surely everyone should be celebrating Queenie’s extraordinary reign. I am not by any means a royalist but this lady has been wonderful and deserves to be celebrated rather than have the celebrations muted by government desk jockeys.
Where will it all end?