Theresa May has just a handful of days left as Prime Minister, but is still trying to secure a domestic legacy for herself. She is doing this in a last-minute manner that makes David Cameron’s famous essay crises look incredibly well-organised. Last week, she called for better design rules to prevent ‘tiny homes’ being built, which sounded odd given as Prime Minister she could feasibly have introduced some rules herself.
May would say that her beef is with local government, not her own failure, when it comes to the lack of quality in newly-built homes. Localism is very convenient when it allows you to blame someone else for not doing something.
She would also have a number of convenient excuses for failing to get the Domestic Abuse Bill, which was supposed to be the flagship piece of legislation in the last Queen’s Speech, onto the statute books. Now, in her final few days, May is reportedly planning to take this bill from draft form and into the Commons for real, to try to force her successor to continue with the legislation.
But May had no need to resort to these last-minute tricks. It is her fault that the legislation isn’t already through most of its stages in the Commons. It was repeatedly delayed because of a lack of government bandwidth on Brexit, and shunted into draft form. The decision to publish a draft first wasn’t the worst one, though, as this is a very complex issue that goes far beyond the general understanding of domestic abuse as physical violence. Governments that rush well-meaning legislation through parliament often repent at leisure.
And that’s why this last-minute rush of May’s is particularly unimpressive. She dawdled over the Bill when she had the time and when MPs didn’t really have much to do, and is now only rushing because she is now out of time, rather than because the legislation is necessarily ready. The Committee examining the draft bill last month recommended a number of changes to it, which presumably the government has taken the time to consider and implement. But there is nothing to stop the next Prime Minister watering down key components of the Bill at committee stage (when few people pay much attention) or if there are concerns expressed at Report Stage about some of the more controversial aspects, including the statutory definition of domestic abuse (more on that here). So even if May does get her Bill into the Commons, there’s no guarantee she’ll eventually get her way on it. And that largely comes down to her own procrastination.