The thing about zombies is that they keep on coming, which was just as well for the film
director George Romero’s bank balance. His hit movie, The Night of the Living Dead, was
followed by Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead and Survival of the Dead.
Sadly George joined the dead himself in 2017; otherwise this talented filmmaker would
probably have produced another half dozen Zombie spectaculars.

So it is with the Conservative party. Since winning back power in 2010, the Tories have
served up repeated Zombie parliaments. To avoid stirring up antipathies, among the voters or,
more importantly, within their own ranks, Tory governments have repeatedly descended into
inactivity. Rather than trying to do something about the drift of the nation they just keep on
keeping on.

There was such zomboid legislative inactivity towards the end of David Cameron’s coalition
that the Institute for Government issued a paper on the zombie parliament. The Conservatives
and Liberal Democrats had done what they had grumpily agreed upon by 2014 and scraped
through the Scottish referendum. After that, they were too busy plotting how to destroy each
other at the coming election to do significant parliamentary work.

The intense parliamentary action during Theresa May’s premiership was overwhelmingly of the vicious
internal civil war kind for both the Conservatives and Labour, whether over Brexit or Corbyn.
The carnage was so ruinous that the victor, Boris Johnson, did not try anything until he had
put the 2019 zombie parliament out of its misery. Once his attempted premature prorogation
failed, parliament’s cannibalistic zombie MPs trudged onward, undead, until December.

Here we are again with the third consecutive coming of a zombie Parliament under the
Tories. As she works out whether and when to resign her seat, that sage of parliament and last
Johnson loyalist, Nadine Dorries, has noticed that there is not much going on. “Since Boris
was removed,” she informed a man from the FT over lunch, “parliament has ground to a halt.
It’s a zombie parliament, everyone is at home. There are no votes”.

The current stifling heat and poor ventilation of the Palace of Westminster are not to blame.
MPs have been slumbering the sleep of the dead for months.

Having started their legislative working week mid-afternoon on Monday, most MPs are
typically back at home or in their constituencies by Thursday lunchtime at the latest.
Demands in the chamber are not taxing even while they are there. One Tuesday recently the
Commons sat from 11.30 am until 2.20pm. Evening sittings are a rarity. The focal point of
the week comes on Wednesdays with Prime Minister’s questions. Rishi Sunak is following
Boris Johnson in finding reasons to be absent from that as often as he can. He has missed five
sessions in less than a year as prime minister. Even when he and Starmer are present, their
pre-scripted refusals to answer each other’s points make PMQs as dull as they can be. The
low-octane and pointless exchanges between their designated deputies, Oliver Dowden and
Angela Rayner, are usually more informative.

Sunak has thinned out the law-making agenda, he says, to concentrate on his five pledges of
halving inflation, cutting the national debt, restoring growth, reducing NHS waiting lists and stopping the boats. There has been scant progress on any of them although at least they are
objectives on which the feuding Conservatives can agree.

There are two “major” pieces of legislation due to come back to the Commons from the
Lords before the Summer recess. The Retained EU Law bill has already been watered down
to the fury of Boris-loyal Brexit fundamentalists. The declamatory Illegal Migration Bill is
unlikely to have an immediate impact in stopping boats crossing the Channel. Other much-trumpeted measures such as the Great British Railways reforms have been shelved. This
week the Commons witnessed the hollow spectacle of the Labour Opposition making the
token gesture of bringing forward the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, first put forward
by Boris and Carrie Johnson.

Labour meanwhile is doing as little as possible to detract from the spectacle of a struggling
Conservative government. Keir Starmer has abandoned the Corbynite pledges which got him
elected to the party leadership, but he is studiously vague about what he plans to put in their
place if he is elected Prime Minister. Champions of what was the £28 billion a year Green
New Deal have experienced his caution the hard way.

Well known for trying to appeal to both left and right, and with tempting by-elections in the
offing, the Liberal Democrats are almost as unspecific about their plans as Labour. Since the
humbling of Nicola Sturgeon, Westminster’s third force, the SNP, seems increasingly at
variance with headquarters back in Edinburgh and are planning to campaign independently of
it, not stressing the goal of independence.

The last two frontbenchers left in Westminster on a Thursday are the Leader and the Shadow
Leader of the House supposedly there to debate next week’s business. This has become a
desultory, almost defeatist exchange. Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire complained it was
“incredibly frustrating to see this worn-out Tory government shut up shop and clear out of
here before 2 o’clock on Tuesday” to which the government’s sword-bearer Penny Mordaunt
could only protest that “outside the chamber, we are delivering and using our time well.”

Those Conservative MPs who intend to stand for re-election – unlike Nadine Dorries and 37
others at the last count who are standing down – have much to do in their constituencies.
They were summoned recently for a pep talk from the Tory-loving American pollster Frank
Lunz only to be told that they are dead men walking. His grim warning was that anyone with
a majority of 15,000 or less is now “at risk” of losing their seat.

It is an open question why they would want to return since their current parliamentary
existence seems so pointless. But then in the movies, zombies are relentless: they keep on
coming instinctively without a thought in their heads.

To the relief of most of us and the disappointment of conspiracy theorists zombies do not
exist in real life. Zombie parliaments are a reality, however. This one is likely to stagger on
for more than a year from now until the next general election.

Just in case we have got it wrong about the walking dead, zombie literature informs us that
there is only one way to kill one: “You need to destroy their brains. The most surefire route is
simply lopping off the cranium with a chainsaw, machete, or samurai sword. Mind the
follow-through, however – anything less than 100 percent severance just isn’t good enough.”

At least the next election should give that final severance – the coup de grace – to this brain-
dead zombie parliament. Given the lowest common denominator – self-protective lack of
leadership from our present elected representatives – only an optimist would bet against a
sequel and the dawn of another zombie parliament sometime soon.

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