We have a new government. Which looks much like the old government, only without any nice people in it. It's very early days but a few policy announcements were made in the campaign and have been confirmed since. Quite a lot of them are a complete waste of time.
In the campaign, Cameron promised a 'five year "tax lock"' to prevent himself from raising the level of income tax, VAT or National Insurance contributions. This is as ridiculous as Labour's policy monolith. A government really shouldn't need to legislate to stop itself doing something it doesn't want to do. If anything, it makes it look like he has tax-raising instincts that need to be forcibly restrained, like putting bromide in your own tea. It's a complete gimmick. And we know it's a gimmick because how would it work? Such an act can be repealed - which might be politically embarrassing to do, but not much more embarrassing than, say, promising not to introduce university tuition fees on the front page of your manifesto and then doing it anyway. In fact, it might make it even easier to raise taxes, because the government would be able to make some story about the economic picture being so important they have to introduce new legislation to raise taxes, thus giving a more convincing picture of national emergency. Possibly Cameron is thinking he might 'entrench' the legislation (i.e. make it difficult to repeal by including clauses to prevent that, like saying that it would require a two-thirds majority to do so or saying it can't be repealed before a certain date), but it's not clear that such entrenchments are legally enforceable. (There's a really helpful piece by Mark Elliott on this.) And, once again, if you don't want to raise taxes, Prime Minister, it might be easier just to not raise taxes.
He's going to repeal the ban on fox-hunting. Why? To appease a tiny group of core Tory voters, some MPs with rural constituencies and the PM's own 'Chipping Norton Set'. It's not going to be a popular move: a poll taken on the eve of the Boxing Day hunt in December 2012 suggested that 76% of the public are opposed to the Act's repeal (rising to 81% for deer hunting and 83% for hare coursing). It's a sign of contempt for public opinion and a nod to a world of privilege and cruelty. Given that our economy is in poor shape and there are 20 constituencies with child poverty at 39% or more, this should not be a priority. It's a waste of time.
Cameron has also committed to an EU Referendum. He doesn't want an EU Referendum. He wants to stay in the EU. It's going to be horribly disruptive and divisive; it will bring out the worst in our press, the worst in our backbenchers, and, I suspect, will damage the nature of our collective life. It will bring all other business to a standstill as MPs are off campaigning on one side or the other. It will cause a disastrous pause in investment as people hold their fire waiting to see which way we jump. All of this to preserve the status quo. It's a damaging waste of time.
And he's going to abolish the Human Rights Act. And he's appointed one of the most hated members of his senior team, Michael Gove, to do it. Why? It's true that the Government has been frustrated by some decisions taken by the Supreme Court in their interpretation of the Act (particularly the barriers put in the way of deporting terrorist suspects) and Cameron has been frustrated by Strasbourg's advice that prisoners cannot be denied the right to vote. But first of all, let's not just pretend these are bad decisions. We should not just be able to deport someone without regard to their human rights. We are supposed to be better than the terrorists. And the right to vote seems to me a fundamental civil right; committing a crime does not obviously deny every aspect of your civil identity. Cameron likes to suggest that this is an example of Strasbourg being out of control and exceeding its authority, but in fact the fundamental right to vote was signed up to by the British Government in 1952. And repealing the Human Rights Act will be almost meaningless without withdrawing from the Convention on Human Rights, which would surely mean we would have to leave the Council of Europe. Without doing those things, Strasbourg would actually be stronger rather than weaker. At the moment our highest court of appeal is the Supreme Court. If we abolish the Human Rights Act, under the Convention, people are once again free to appeal to the European Court. The European Court does not force us to change our laws; we have to take account of its rulings but we are not forced to accept them - that is for the Supreme Court to decide. And anyway, what is a British Bill of Rights? What are the human and civil rights that the British don't need? Surely, if this Bill is going to be meaningful, it would have to set out a series of principles on which judges must act and how are these going to be different from the Human Rights Act? Apart from some exception for deporting terrorist suspects which will undoubtedly be eaten away at by precedents and exceptions, it'll be exactly the same as before. In which case, a huge amount of time and effort is going to go into introducing a law that is unnecessary and will leave everything where it is. It's a complete waste of time.
Why is he doing all this? Why is he going to waste weeks and months of parliamentary time on these pointless and foolish bits of legislation? Why go to so much effort to change nothing?
The depressing answer is that David Cameron as Prime Minister is all about giving the impression of being decisive rather than being decisive, about looking like you're doing something rather than doing it. He's going to repeal the fox-hunting ban to 'send a message' to his High Tory rural backbenchers. He's going to repeal the Human Rights Act to appease his Eurosceptics. He's going to legislate for a five year tax lock, because it'll look like he's determined to cut the tax bill. And he'll put this whole country through a referendum on the EU so he can look like he's listening to what the tabloids tell us are the genuine concerns of ordinary hard-working people. All of this while food banks proliferate, child poverty deepens, crises break out in NHS A&E Departments every weekend.
This is a terrible waste of parliamentary time - as well as, inevitably, your time and my time - and a dreadful sign of the skewed party-political priorities of this public relations prime minister.