Opinion: political deadlock is impacting legislative action

Author: John Crabb | Published: 5 Dec 2019
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When was the last time you read a newspaper or watched the news and saw that a majority of politicians had come to a consensus and passed a law that you could safely say was good for the people of the country they govern? If the answer is recently, chances are you don't live or work in the UK or the US.

As a British national that lives and works in New York City, both of my homes are in dire straits when it comes to governance. Party politics and obstructionism in both countries has effectively put the kybosh on rulemaking on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US the constant fighting between the right and the left, and the incessant merry-go-round that is the election cycle, means that it is nigh-on impossible to get important legislation through Congress.

In the UK, a similar story. The ongoing resource leach that is Brexit has gotten to a point where a lot of people simply don't care what happens, they just want to stop having to talk about it. The UK government has been so caught up in trying to find a plan that will pass through Parliament that it has done very little in the way of rulemaking in the three and a half years since the referendum. The opposition, too, has been so caught up in trying to derail a no-deal Brexit that it has had little time to voice concern.

Recent conversations with sources on both sides of both divides have echoed similar sentiments. When it comes to certain aspects of rulemaking it should not be right or left, in or out, red or blue, new republic or first order. Sources broadly agree that politics should be about the country you live in and the people you are responsible for.

The effects are long term when a bill does manage to find its way through the system, against the odds.

An example in the US is tax reform, which passed through the Senate by a margin of 51-48 in December 2017 on party lines. If and when a Democratic administration is elected to the Senate and the presidency, it is incredibly likely that it will unpick all or parts of the tax bill systematically. A similar thing happened with the Affordable Care Act and, to an extent, Dodd-Frank.

At this juncture a compelling argument would reference British legislation that is likely to be reversed in the event of a sea change. However, identifying any form of legislative change in the UK in the last three years is also surprisingly difficult.

Governments in the US, the UK and other countries going through constitutional crises need to remember that they have a job to do. They need to work together to pass true legacy reforms that last. As one US congressman put it at an industry event this November, "when the crisis hits we'd better come together as Americans, because going into this crisis divided is not sustainable". The EU is an example of positive change that should be congratulated, and emulated.

Systems should be designed to presume that laws will be fair for those on the left and the right. Change should be made to last. The alternative is costly for the country, costly for the people, and costly for democracy.