Last week, I said I would report back from the Labour Party Conference, so here are a few highlights you might have missed because too often the media are obsessed with personalities and not with the issues that matter:
We’ll abolish tuition fees with free training and childcare, with a huge expansion of Children’s Centres, technical colleges and training, and adult training opportunities.
We’ll build millions of new houses to end the scourge of homelessness, end the punitive sanctions for disabled people and others, and make sure families no longer need to use foodbanks.
We’ll plant millions of new trees, invest more in wind turbines and solar panels, recycling and electric vehicles and railways and cycleways, and have pledged to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2030 – 20 full years ahead of Parliament’s current target. This will be extremely challenging, but necessary to deal with the Climate Emergency.
I would like to write the whole column on Labour’s policies, but I need to tell you where I stand on the role of Parliament and the rule of law.
In history, it was the bullies who made the rules. Working people had virtually no money, and the rulers kept what peace there was by the edge of a sword. Gradually, over the 750 years our Parliament has existed, we have created a system which lets us choose who our rulers should be, and entrust them with making our rules. We have developed rights for British people, a justice system which doesn’t just act as a mouthpiece for rulers, Bills which can’t just be invented by one man, and governance which involves all sorts of people to ensure that the laws are fair.
When Charles I became impatient with Parliament and just closed it down, it led to the English Civil War, the bloodiest conflict this country has ever faced in proportion to the population. By breaking the rules by which the country was governed, Charles removed any legitimacy from his own government, leading inevitably to violence. His son, Charles II, realised that only by having respect for Parliament could he expect the people to respect his government.
On Monday 9th September Parliament was sent home. Boris Johnson claimed that he had persuaded the Queen to “prorogue” Parliament to prepare a Queen’s Speech, for a new Parliament with a new programme of laws starting on 14th October. But 5 days would normally be considered ample, not 5 weeks. Several Bills such as the Domestic Violence Bill and the Animal Cruelty Sentencing Bill were ready to become law but would have been lost if the closure of Parliament had been upheld. And Johnson has no majority so it’s hard to see how he could translate the Queen’s Speech into law anyway.
The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that there were no reasons, let alone any good reasons, for the government to close down Parliament, and that therefore the closure was “void”. They did not go into what the reasons might be, but clearly it wasn’t to enable a Queen’s Speech, but to try to prevent Parliament from stopping a no-Deal Brexit.
An instant General Election would leave us with no Parliament for 6 weeks or so at this crucial moment. But we will have to have a General Election soon – just as soon as it is safe to do so. Johnson knows this, so any speech he writes for the Queen will be just as pointless as the 5-week-long closure of Parliament.
Johnson has used our Queen as a party-political tool. If there is no chance of the Queen’s Speech becoming law under this failing Conservative Government, then the only reason for making her read a speech is in order to launch the Conservatives’ Manifesto for the next General Election. It’s bad enough hearing Johnson or Gove making unbelievable promises fuelled by non-existent money, but to put those in the mouth of the Queen is deeply disrespectful and undermines Her Majesty’s political neutrality.
No wonder the Supreme Court ruled that the advice the Government had given to the Queen was unlawful. Any respectable Prime Minister would resign over this. Johnson has shown no shame or regret at all, but my guess is that he will not last anyway. We need a government that can govern. We need a Prime Minister that respects the rule of law. We need a Brexit deal, and a fresh referendum. And we need a General Election, as soon as we can do so without letting the Prime Minister take us out of Europe without a deal.