What are the Coalition parties going to do for the next few months in the run-up to the general election? Judging by the way the Liberal Democrats have behaved this week, they're going to spend a great deal of time talking about Michael Gove, which isn't encouraging for anyone who got a little bored of that particular ding-dong around the time of the childcare debacle. They're certainly not planning to do much in the way of legislating, either. At today's Business Statement in the House of Commons, Angela Eagle mocked Andrew Lansley for announcing very little in the way of government business:
'I thank the Leader of the House for his business statement, but it was yet again so devoid of actual Government business that he may as well have let me or the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee do it. In the past four weeks, more than 60% of our time has been taken up by non-Government business, because this is a zombie coalition staggering around with no discernible purpose. Is that all we can expect for the next 15 months? This Government have not just given up on legislating; they have given up on listening to Parliament, too.'
This is partly because neither party wants to rock the boat with some dreadful legislation ahead of the election. But it's also because to a certain extent they've run out of road on reforms they both agree on. As James said last week, the Coalition is cohabiting, but in the absence of much legislation, they're behaving like a couple who've both just retired and, with plenty of time on their hands, have realised they don't really get on.
When he gave evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee earlier today, Lord O'Donnell was rather sanguine about this 'zombie government' at the end of a Coalition, but argued that having 'somewhat less legislation' could be an 'opportunity to emphasise implementation' instead. He also suggested that this lacuna might mean the parties could sit back and have big debates about long-term issues such as dementia, childhood obesity and social care.