Queen to ask PM ‘Is this all you’ve got for me?’
Well, ok maybe she won’t put it exactly like that, although we know she is capable of directness in private. As she prepares for tomorrow’s State Opening of Parliament, we humbly suggest that Her Majesty might be reflecting on the lack of jewels in the agenda setting speech her loyal Government has presented to her.
In last year’s Queen’s Speech the confidence of a newly re-elected Government, surprised by its own majority, shone through. By contrast this year’s is set to be an altogether more low key affair. Despite an apparently easier task - with a comfortable lead in the polls and an Opposition failing to make an impact - the Government has had a choppy start to 2016. Thanks to the increasingly turbulent EU Referendum campaign and a poorly received Budget, added to a series of u-turns inflicted by pressure from Conservative backbenchers and the House of Lords, the government ship has been listing. This is not where they would hope to be so early in the Parliament.
The Cameron legacy starts here…
This Queen’s Speech is a chance for the Government to get back on an even keel and re-establish some initiative after a series of set backs. David Cameron will be back on ‘project legacy’ which currently consists of a Scottish Referendum no vote, a brace of speeches on social mobility and a sluggish economic recovery. Cameron’s day to day tactical style of governance, despite the occasional sprinkling of stardust, is not going to set historian hearts aflutter. He currently faces either an untimely end to his tenure post a Brexit vote or, more likely, a leisurely wind-down to a handover sometime in 2018. He will therefore be looking at this Parliamentary year as the chance to underpin some eye-catching initiatives to prevent his tenure becoming a mere afterthought in the history books.
So what will the Queen’s Speech reveal about his ambitions? Beset by financial struggles, he seems to have abandoned any ideas of being a great reforming Prime Minister despite attempts in the last Parliament to seriously address the chronic health service challenges. There is talk of a whistle-blowers charter to tackle a perceived culture of blame within the NHS, but with the continuing impasse over junior doctors contracts and likely further problems with senior doctors, health is not top of the agenda.
Education his other principal legacy focus has also recently been holed below the waterline by backbenchers upset at his acadamisation plans. This was a serious embarrassment for Cameron, who had personally committed to the plan to force all schools to become academies. The recent climb down means, rather than applying to all schools, ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ schools will be exempt. Will tomorrow see an attempt to make up lost ground with a slightly less controversial Education Bill?
The ‘Tinker’ man cometh (with apologies to C. Ranieri)
Setting large scale public service reforms aside, the strategy now seems to be to tinker in a number of areas to try to create an overall social transformation agenda. Expect to see the package tomorrow include some innovative reforms to prisons, greater digitisation including better access to rural broadband, opening up the Higher Education sector to create more competition and significant further reforms to the planning system - to encourage house building through council land seizure, garden towns and cities.
On a less progressive note, the Government intends to cut lose the last binds of the Coalition constraints and introduce tougher legislation on extremism. The Bill, first mentioned last year, would be aimed at further curbing extremist activity. Despite the prospect of further delays, no one should be surprised if Theresa May gets this on the statute book as a prelude to leadership battles beginning in earnest.
The sheer number of lost votes in the House of Lords (60 in the last session, the highest since 2005) should see Government’s plans to curb the power of the second chamber get an airing. Proposals to practically reduce the number of defeats dished out remain deeply controversial and could potentially face watering down in … yes you guessed it, the House of Lords!
Of wider and long term constitutional significance are proposed plans to introduce a British Bill of Rights. This would make the UK Supreme Court the final court but ensure the UK remains a member of the ECHR. With the looming EU Referendum don’t expect this to be promoted hard, but, if there is a vote to Remain in June, this will be a key bone for Cameron to throw to disgruntled Brexiters.
Perhaps he will be remembered..
As with all political set pieces, tomorrow will be a trade off. The short term shadow of the EU Referendum campaign means this Gracious Speech is likely to be one of the least remembered in recent times. However, Cameron will hope that some of the more eye-catching anticipated announcements, on space-flight, driverless cars and unmanned drones, mean in time he will be remembered for more than just flights of fancy.
If you want to discuss how the Queen’s Speech proposals may affect your business or campaign activities, don’t hesitate to get in touch, we are always happy to offer advice and a sounding board.
After the Queen finishes just before Midday tomorrow, the detail of the Speech will be available at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/prime-ministers-office-10-downing-street