While the Conservative leadership contest continues at a snail’s pace, Parliament is relatively quiet with very little legislation being considered. This is, of course, incredibly inappropriate given so many urgent priorities facing the country. But it’s a reflection of the fact that – in the British constitution – the ‘Government’ is essentially an institution built around the personal choices of the Prime Minister. With the current PM’s departure now imminent, everything grinds to a halt as we wait for the new Prime Minister and, effectively, the new Government.
We can get a sense of this new Government from some of the reports from the Conservative leadership hustings. There are some bizarre ideas floating around from Jeremy Hunt, who this week ridiculously implied that fox hunting could be made legal again. But the reality is that Boris Johnson is the favourite of the Conservative membership, and his agenda is even more right-wing. Take for example the preposterous priority of giving a tax cut to the wealthiest 10% of society which is wholly designed to appeal to the Tory old-guard selectorate. And worse of course is the “do or die” Brexit approach, almost relishing the prospect of crashing out into a no-deal WTO Brexit which the Treasury say could stunt our economic development in the East Midlands by nearly 10%.
With the new Prime Minister will come a reshuffle, a whole new set of Ministers, and many of the existing crop who will face the sack. Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Greg Clark all look likely to lose their Cabinet posts because they will refuse to toe the line on a no-deal Brexit – which is to their credit. Chancellor Philip Hammond is today reported to have been helping coordinate up to 30 Conservative MPs who believe that it would be wrong to crash out of the EU without a deal, and that they are prepared to use parliamentary time ahead of August to secure an ‘insurance’ date in October for legislation to prevent this. I hope this is the case – because so far too many MPs have found an excuse to avoid acting, just as sadly they passed up the opportunity to amend this week’s ‘Estimates’ to place conditions on the new Prime Minister in the autumn.
So we find ourselves in the unedifying position of waiting for Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister, and to see how the parliamentary arithmetic may change thereafter. Until that ‘next Government’ arrives, I doubt very much that the fundamentals of the political scene will alter.