Johnson’s government will do far more damage than his term as prime minister

Yesterday, I found myself in a coffee shop with a student next to him who was frantically typing to finish an overdue paper. She explained that she had to provide 10,000 words and was filling in things to distract from parts she hadn’t studied. Meanwhile, I’m reading through the government’s new parliamentary plan for 38 bills that seem to take enrichment and distraction to new heights.

Britain is on the brink of recession, Business confidence is shaky. However, the government does not have a coherent economic growth plan. Its levelling bill would penalize landlords of vacant stores instead of reforming business tax rates to support High Street. Its trade bill would approve minor deals.A sort of Brexit Freedom Act Ministers will be asked to revise EU rules – but they don’t seem to know which ones. Instead, the foreign secretary has again threatened to tear up the Northern Ireland deal, which could spark a damaging trade war.

Ah, the machismo of legislation. “Look at our utopia bill,” the minister roared in a televised interview. But hyperactivity cannot hide a lack of strategy. With the war in Ukraine mired, energy prices soaring and the stock market tumbling, the government appears to be stuck and unable to adapt. Unlike my student friends, it hasn’t even started serious swotting.

Boris Johnson’s government continues to outperform in terms of campaigning. I applaud the government for changing course when it was wrong – but delaying planned audit and regulatory reforms, Dilute his National Insurance rise And sending conflicting signals about the emergency budget looks chaotic.

The government appears to have only two guiding principles: setting political traps for opponents and expanding executive power. Its Rwandan immigration program falls into the first category: a policy known inside Whitehall won’t work, but it’s popular and leaves critics looking wet. More sinister is the covert invasion of institutions that are supposed to serve as a check and balance on government.

A few weeks ago, the government gave ministers new powers to decide the terms of reference of the Electoral Commission, the watchdog overseeing British elections. Little attention has been paid to ministers making a new “strategy and policy statement” for regulators.The committee claims that such interference has no precedent in comparable democracies. Jonathan Evans, Chair of the Public Living Standards Committee, describes the reform Something like “give a toddler a gun”. . . it may not lead to immediate disaster, but it is an extremely dangerous thing to do. “Lord Evans knew a thing or two about the danger: he had led the M15.

Not every country has an electoral commission: what matters is whether their regulator is independent. The insurgents who stormed the U.S. Capitol last year were unable to overturn the election results because of the sound system. Weakening these institutions, even in a small way, would be reckless. Why would the government do this? Perhaps because of the committee’s zealous investigation of vote-fake data, or because it monitors party finances. No explanation is forthcoming. But it would be arrogant to fail to consider how these laws might be used by future governments of different political backgrounds.

To raise such concerns is to be accused of hysteria. I’ve already been criticized for opposing the government’s plans to give police more powers and limit the right to protest. Despite being defeated in the House of Lords, the Home Secretary is bringing these back with a new public order bill that will give civil libertarians the courage to be “soft on crime”. Either way, she won, and Tory members were blissfully unaware that those powers could be used against them in future Rural Union marches.

The proposed Bill of Rights appears to have a similar dual purpose. Its vague language about restoring “common sense” to “ensure the Constitution is upheld” came from some unknown attacker and sounded Orwellian. Far from being a rights-promoting bill, some fear it would reduce rights and limit citizens’ ability to hold administrators accountable. However, lawyer David Alan Green sees it as “vanity legislation” – designed to convince supporters that the government is repealing the Human Rights Act, when in fact the European Convention on Human Rights is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement . We won’t know until we see the details.

And one last question. Successive governments have enforced their will by drafting vague outline bills that can later be fleshed out with little parliamentary scrutiny. The Brexit Freedom Act is essentially a giant “Henry VIII” clause – under which ministers will repeal whatever they like.in a Lecture of the week, former Chief Justice Justice Igor warned that these tactics had led to an “overly powerful executive.” In 1780, he said, the House of Commons passed a resolution that “the influence of the royal family has increased, is increasing, and should decrease”. With the word “administrative” in place of “crown” today, such a resolution could be struck down, the judge said.

There is an end-of-the-century feel to British politics. Prince Charles, who represents the Queen at the state opening of parliament, is a sad symbol of a slow abdication. His playbook comes from a tired, frail cabinet, obsessed with campaigning and relinquishing its responsibility to think boldly in challenging times, despite police issuing more “party gate” fines to Downing Street staff. The caravan will eventually move on – but some of the damage it leaves behind will be indelible.

camilla.cavendish@ft.com

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