Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday writing for the Independent called for the Queen’s speech to be scrapped in favor of a programme of wide ranging political reform. Nick Clegg claimed that the Queen’s speech will be a work of fiction as Gordon Brown will only have 70 days to implement the legislation set out in the speech, and therefore would be little more than a road test of Labour’s next election manifesto and policy gimmicks to see whether they may save the governments skin.
The Lib Dem leader claimed that in the wake of the expenses scandal this parliament has lost its legitimacy, and therefore the only job that this ‘rump parliament’ is good for is the reformation of parliament. In his article for the Independent the Liberal Democrat leader suggested that parliament should focus their efforts on agreeing on an action plan to reform parliament in the few months until MPs leave for the election battle. The Lib Dem leader suggested a series of steps towards the reform of parliament. The first step in the Liberal Democrat leaders plan is for parliament to approve proposals to be set out by the public administration committee which would curb the powers of the commons whips and increase the autonomy and influence of the backbench MP’s. Nick Clegg also suggested moves to introduce fixed-term parliaments, agree a code of conduct for election candidates, sack corrupt MPs, make the House of Lords fully-elected and reform the Commons voting system. Nick Clegg stated that the one gift this failed parliament can give its successor is a fresh start.
The truth is that although Clegg may be right about the need for parliamentary reform he is way off the mark on two counts:
One: the Queen’s speech serves more of a purpose than merely announcing the legislative programme of the government for the next term of parliament. The monarch’s speech at the state opening of parliament is a tradition that has been in place for over 500 years, it is after all her government. If the speech were to be cancelled especially at this late stage it would not only be done at huge cost to the British tax payer as all of the security procedures will already be in place for the Queen’s journey from Buckingham palace to parliament. But the cancellation of the speech would also signal a much more significant constitutional change. If the government were to stop the Queen’s speech then it would be the prime minister effectively overruling the head of state, effectively in one action removing the presumed authority in the crown. This action in itself would symbolize a major shift in British constitutional politics.
Two: his argument that the Queen's speech will be a complete waste of time and would be little more than a road test of the Labour party manifesto can be said of any Queen’s speech near the end of a parliament, both Labour and Tory. Harriet Harman rejecting this claim stated that this Queen’s speech would contain important plans to foster economic growth and make the banks more accountable.
The call by Nick Clegg is quite simply a blatant example of pointless politicking, the kind of which the British public has come to detest. I suggest that the Lib Dem leader gets off his high horse and takes a look around. This Labour government has introduced and passed legislation, which became an act of parliament in the summer, which will make sure that MPs no longer set our allowance system. And Gordon Brown announced his plan to have a referendum on electoral reform after the next general election.
Yes there does need to be reform in politics, but significant steps have already been taken, and Nick Clegg’s announcement seems to be playing politics in an area that needs unity and coherent action.