Saturday, 29 May 2010

New government: new politics?

So there I was...about to upload a commentary on the new government after an adequate time for reflection...when up shoots another political bolt from the blue to splatter all over the front pages.

No headlines proclaiming 'Rent Boy' that I've noticed yet, but the omens do not look especially good for the government's LibDem rising star, David Laws.

In my view, the most incriminating evidence revealed against him so far is perhaps the excessive utilities and maintenance bills claimed in addition to his rent. (Though charging taxpayers £950 for use of a bedroom does seem excessive even for London.) It continues to surprise how complex applying MPs expenses regulations can be. So I won't speculate on how soon, or far, Laws is going to fall.

Instead, here's my brief and generally upbeat - until yesterday - view of what I think of the new politics so far...

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I have refrained for several days from commenting on the arrival of the new government.

One reason is a genuine ignorance of what was being developed within the two-party partnership. The other is awareness that first impressions are often not a reliable basis for firm opinions.

Initial impressions were that the Conservative side of government had given up philosophy and beliefs to create an alliance representing a new political party with an unknown manifesto.

David Cameron's new leadership style seemed to magnify the authoritarian nature he'd shown as opposition and campaign leader. The decisions without consultation to propose fixed term parliaments, a lock over the dissolution of parliament, and controls over the backbench 1922 Committee, suggested a ruthless intention to impose his new party over both Conservatives and the parliament.

However, a full three weeks have passed since the election. MPs have returned to parliament. We have had the Queen's speech. And most importantly, we have begun to see how the new government, through its ministers, intends to act and present its case in parliament.

I have been impressed by the natural confidence of the ministerial team. This may be a confirmation that Conservatives are indeed the natural party of government or just an awakening of our long-suppressed knowledge of how inadequate Labour ministers always were.

The shining performance of some of the LibDem team certainly reflects the latter. David Laws in the economics debate on the Queen's speech showed the metal of which he is made, even as he referenced some softer inclusions of LibDem policy. And David Heath, beardedly LibDem as he is, provided a cogent and conciliatory explanation of the 55 percent dissolution rule (as far as it has yet developed), and even made me think twice about whether it might actually be necessary.

Most of all, the Queen's speech debates this week, especially on foreign affairs and defence, showed parliament at its best. The depth and sincerity of argument from the government front and back benches, and the generosity of spirit shown to fellow parliamentarians, showed the stature that parliament is capable of when the right people are in charge. In fact, it's something I haven't witnessed for thirteen years!

There's a long way to go – and substantial disagreements between the governing partners and Conservative back and front benchers have yet to emerge – but, despite the election result, the presentation so far gives encouragement that hopes for a Conservative-style Britain look a little better than Conservatives might have hoped.

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