Was there any point?


The area around our office has been horribly traffic-clogged and chaotic all week. That's because half the roads in Westminster are closed for the Queen's speech. It seems they needed the roads closed on Monday and Tuesday so they could erect the barriers, closed on Wednesday so the Queen could visit Parliament safely, and then closed yesterday so they could take all the barriers down again.

Now, much as I enjoy the ceremony of occasions like this, I do wonder whether there's really much point, given the disruption involved. After all, it's not like the Queen's speech told us anything new – most of the bills were announced ages ago, and the rest were leaked to the media before the speech. Maybe HM should just have stayed home with the corgis instead?

In fact, I sometimes wonder why the government bothers involving Parliament in things at all, given the contempt it seems to have for the institution. It's well known that Tony Blair attended less than 10 percent of Commons votes during his tenure as prime minister, and rarely attended parliamentary debates (even in the debate on the Iraq war, he left after just a few speeches). Gordon Brown did little better as chancellor, and doesn't seem to have changed much since he's been at Number 10.

Of course, I'm not surprised that ministers don't care much for parliament. Although Labour MPs are rebelling with increased regularity, the Commons still more or less does the government's bidding in the legislative chamber. Most of the committees are just as bad, since they have government majorities and – usually – chairs (the Public Accounts Committee being a notable exception).

Indeed, politics these days is almost all about the media – parliamentary democracy being an unfortunate afterthought. Politicians are driven by polls, polls are driven by media coverage (generally, the more 'your man' is on TV, the better your poll rating), and media coverage is driven by action. And that's why politics-by-media means a constant stream of 'initiatives', endless tinkering, and masses of completely ill thought out legislation which undergoes little scrutiny. Which brings me conveniently back to the Queen's speech...