OPINION: A humdrum political process

One week into the new parliamentary term and there's plenty to chew over. Nineteen new Bills announced in the Queen's Speech, about average for any parliamentary year, but nevertheless a pretty full programme.

But despite important - and some controversial - measures included among the intended legislative plans, you can't help thinking that for the Government it's pretty much business as usual. The prospect of a war with Iraq, the threat of terrorist attacks, the challenges of public-sector reform, all continue to dominate the political scene.

And while the Government tried to convince us that there was a strong theme uniting their proposals, in reality it was a ragbag of Bills that could not be shoe-horned into a pithy political message about rights and responsibilities.

Perhaps it was ever thus at this point in a government's second term.

Eighteen months after the election, implementation and delivery (and responding to world events) have become more important than grand new plans.

But with all the pomp and pageantry that surrounds the Queen's Speech, you have to question what the disinterested voter makes of it all. With the traditions of the ceremony dating back to the 17th century, it all makes for rather extraordinary television pictures. But coupled with an incoherent political message, is there any wonder that citizens feel disengaged with politics?

For those in the voluntary sector seeking to shape public policy, the steady erosion of credibility in the business of politics creates an enormous challenge.

Engaging supporters in campaigning for public policy change requires there to be an acceptance that politics is of relevance to us all - not just the political hacks.

Faced with a parliament deeply wedded to its own eccentric traditions and a government that lacks a clear political narrative, organisations will increasingly find it harder to engage the public in campaigns to shape public policy. Renewing public interest in politics is not simply a task for politicians, it is an agenda for us all.

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

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