David Cameron is extremely lucky to find himself retaining the position of Prime Minister following his clear, if unexpected, win in a marathon general election race. Buoyed up by that win he has sprinted at top speed into a hurdle race that is set to become a steeplechase. Clearing the Queen’s Speech and State Opening of Parliament with ease he now strides on to the vote on the Queen’s Speech and his Programme for Government. This is overly ambitious and the proposed twenty-one Bills are a series of hurdles that will turn what should be a short or middle distance event into a long distance race with the finishing line receding out of sight. In an athletic event the hurdles are either short-distance/high-hurdle or medium-distance/low-hurdle. Dave has made his task harder by mixing them up and risks losing rhythm and having to stutter-step as he crashes through some of the hurdles.
He does not have a large majority in the House of Commons and he is very much of a minority in the House of Lords. That means his Parliamentary team has to be focused and united if they want to complete the course. The signs are not promising as they are not all in step. With the opposition teams in disarray and leaderless his task should be a walkover, but the ScotNats are not playing by the rules. In an hurdle event you have to keep within your lane, but the SNP are intent on elbowing and jostling as they are focused on their ambition for independence. They intend to make a steeplechase out of this.
With this reality Dave needs some support, a pacemaker, to help him along. While he does not need a coalition partner, he does need to cultivate the support of the Ulster unionists – especially the DUP. The proposed Northern Ireland Bill is limited in its aims and may need to be enhanced if he is going to keep the DUP on side.
Coalitions have their uses. They provide scapegoats, such as Nick Clegg. So, although there is no position of Deputy PM in Dave’s Cabinet, he does have a likely candidate for the position of scapegoat in Boris Johnson if any sacrifices have to be made.
The Queen’s Speech is a set of bullet points and you need to read the accompanying government press-release to fully understand the Programme for Government. There are some things in the press-release that were not in the Conservative Manifesto. The press and media have made much of the exclusion of Bills on fox-hunting and the Bill of Rights. Neither is there any proposed legislation to give effect to reducing the number of MPs or any of the other contentious and difficult issues arising from the Manifesto. However, this is a fixed-term five-year parliament and there are other Queen’s Speeches to come.
The press-release also deals with matters that are outside the scope of the proposed Bills, mainly to set out foreign policy. Again, some such matters in the Manifesto are not mentioned in the Programme. There was not much debate on foreign policy during the election campaign, so you could be forgiven for missing the fact that a Conservative government intends to support an attempt by India to secure a place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council – presumably with a right of veto. This has got all sorts of ramifications given the confrontations with China and Russia. Manifesto proposals to promote LGBT rights in other countries while not specifically referred to in the press-release or the Queen’s Speech should go through unopposed as this was in every party manifesto – although the Green Party did add some other initials.
As we know political party manifestos are not legally binding and are only a declaration of intent. Ed Milliband intended to cast his manifesto pledges in tablets of stone; still not legally binding though. The Conservative Manifesto pledges not to increase income-tax, value added tax, or national insurance contributions are going to be enshrined in Law and will become binding for the next five years. Having set that precedent can we expect future party manifestos to be fully enshrined in law?
I can say with some certainty that a CDP election manifesto and programme for government would be enshrined in law and become legally binding. It would be the first Bill placed before Parliament and top of the Queen’s Speech.