The Queen’s Speech shows threats to a balanced constitution are noise not substanceby David Allen Green / December 20, 2019 / Leave a comment
A government can either have a genuine social and economic reform agenda or a genuine constitutional reform agenda, but it cannot effortlessly have both.
This is because giving effect to either agenda would be all-consuming, and parliamentary, ministerial and civil service time is scarce. An administration will soon find if it is too ambitious for any fundamental change that it will get bogged down. It is better to focus on priorities. And this would be true of any government, regardless of having to deal with Brexit as well.
Announcements are easy. A press release is a quick win, a line or two in a manifesto or a speech is as much exertion as a few minutes’ typing. And the 2019 Conservative manifesto certainly contained some troubling suggestions for judicial review and other constitutional matters.
Often these proposals are floated just for the effect they have in opponents. In this cynical age of Steve Bannon and Dominic Cummings, the outrage of the opposition is the sound of successful politics. Certain policies are promoted just so as to prompt concern and alarm but have no more substance than that. This is noise.
Another possibility is that, like a bully in a playground, the government is making threats now so that it will not be crossed by those with the power to do so. The government is telling courts and the other elements of the state that any interference with the executive will not be a tolerated. Again, this is noise.
The question of whether there will be serious interference by the new government in the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements is about substance not noise, and here the government’s real position is less clear.
No big bang
There will not be, at least in the first years of this administration, a “big bang” policy of constitutional reform. This is notwithstanding, say, the Conservative manifesto’s “Page 48” and its strident passages.
In the Queen’s Speech yesterday these explicit proposals were absent. There was instead the statement that a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission will be established.” A talking shop, in other words. The appearance of doing something as opposed to actually doing something.
The relevant “briefing note” is no more informative.…