Two years into government, after 13 years in opposition (or in the case of the Liberal Democrats almost a century) you would have expected a Queen's Speech packed with ideas. Ministers would have spent months battling it out to have their legislation included in the government's packed programme.
It has of course not panned out like that. We had instead a Queen's Speech light on legislation, just 15 bills for the forthcoming session and four draft bills.
Beyond the paucity of legislation what was shocking, for a government so new to office, was the absence from the Queen's Speech of any sense of strategic vision for Britain. A few weeks ago, the senior Conservative backbencher, Bernard Jenkin, lambasted the government's lack of a compelling strategic direction. It is now clear his stinging criticism was understated, this isn't a government lacking a compelling vision; it is a government lacking any vision at all. The European Union (Croatia Accession) Bill is a necessary piece of legislation but it's not what they are clamouring for on the Tory backbenches.
They don't talk about it on the doorstep in Wallasey. Nor have they raised House of Lords reform. I support a democratically elected second chamber. I will vote for it (and support a referendum, as promised in our 2010 election manifesto). But should it be the government's number one legislative priority? No of course not. Its prominence in the Queen's Speech reflects both the government's wrong priorities and its absence of ideas.
The government's spectacular mismanagement of the legislative programme for the last two years has been an unparalleled demonstration of Parliamentary incompetence. Badly drafted bills were hastily redrafted, and redrafted again. Some bills more than doubled in size during their passage through Parliament and ministers struggled to translate their ideas (such that they were) into legislation.
Its record of incompetent parliamentary mismanagement might explain why, astonishingly, one third of the bills announced in the Queen's Speech are to be designated as "carry over bills". Carry over is a procedure that allows bills to be carried over from one session of Parliament to the next. They apparently include Banking Reform, the Children and Families Bill, Energy and Pensions.
Bills in the Queen's Speech should easily pass through parliament in a session - that lasts a year - provided they are more or less ready to go when announced in the Queen's Speech.
The explanation for the astonishingly high number of carry over bills, in a Queen's Speech that was to start with short of legislation, can only be the government hasn't managed to get its act together to draft legislation. Astonishing given the last Queen's Speech was in May 2010 - they have had exactly two years to prepare legislation. You have to ask what have they been doing all this time? arguing amongst themselves?
Alternatively, perhaps the government has realised that the justification for making Lords Reform the centre piece of its legislative programme, namely that the Liberal Democrat leadership was desperate for a 'win' to justify their presence in government to the grassroots, wasn't sufficient to secure the legislation's passage. They now fear reform of the House of Lords will get bogged down, clogging up the Parliamentary timetable, dragging down other bills. Or perhaps they just can't agree on the policy in the coalition. Whichever way you look at it incompetent is the word that comes to mind.
Angela Eagle MP is Shadow Leader of the House of Commons & Chair of Labour's National Policy Forum
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