Political Insider: The Queen’s Speech
For only the third time in her reign, the Queen did not deliver the Queen’s Speech. Instead, it was left to Prince Charles to set out the Government’s legislative agenda for the new parliamentary session which began today.
After a punishing round of local elections last week, legislation was announced which Boris Johnson hopes will get his Government back on track and retake the initiative after a turbulent spell dominated by Partygate, the Ukraine war and growing discontent over the cost of living. Nick Vaughan and Andrew McQuillan, consultants in MHP Mischief’s public affairs team take a look at the key bills and whether they will be enough to revive this flagging administration ahead of the next General Election.
What does it mean?
The breadth and scale of the bills announced today point to a Government which is making up for lost time and seeking to take back the initiative. There is plenty in there designed to reassure Conservative backbenchers and aims to make good on the Government’s previous pledges that mean the most to them electorally – levelling up and Brexit.
We take a look at some of the key themes running through the speech:
A new back to basics
Amid concerns among backbenchers that the Government has drifted away from ‘Conservative values’, this Queen’s Speech sought to address those concerns. A Public Order Bill and commitments to deal with Channel crossings are considered easy wins, while the pledge to repeal and pushback EU regulations in order to make life easier for business will strike a similar chord. This Brexit Freedoms Bill is accompanied by some major changes to the UK’s data regulation and a Bill to boost the financial services industry, though the speech contained little about employment, for example.
Levelling up relaunched
Amid concern that the Government’s much vaunted levelling up agenda has yet to get going, legislation will enact the intent set out in the white paper published earlier this year and further empower local leaders. The knotty issue of planning will also be tackled as part of this legislation and will seek to give residents more say in local developments. Other announcements, such as a regulator for football, will be viewed in No.10 as the sort of measures which will play well in the Red Wall ahead of any election.
Cost of living – does this go far enough?
The speech made limited interventions regarding the cost of living crisis, with the Government steering clear of any major fiscal moves. The Energy Bill, which will introduce the measures set out in the Energy Security Strategy published in April, will take time to have any meaningful impact on rising bills and there are concerns it will not do enough on key issues, like retrofit. Consumer rights and competition legislation will be welcomed, but the opposition are certain to claim the structural changes in this speech do not go far enough
The NI Protocol phoney war continues
A vague commitment to defend the Belfast Agreement and the “internal economic bonds” between all parts of the UK suggests that the ongoing scrap with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol will continue and is likely to escalate. Briefing suggests that the Government may seek to unilaterally abandon some of its key elements, including checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain. Megaphone diplomacy between London, Belfast, Dublin and Brussels will continue.
This Government got elected on the back of three words in December 2019: ‘Get Brexit Done’. But Number 10 knows it is going to need more than three words to get back into office at an election in 2024.
Number 10’s Policy Unit will be hoping this packed domestic agenda – over 30 bills have been proposed in the speech – will help get Boris back onto the front foot with various political headwinds continuing to encircle him.
However, amongst the pomp and ceremony of today’s Queen’s Speech, it is the return to economic prosperity – and if not – how the Chancellor responds – which will likely have the greatest influence on this Government’s political fortunes. The apparent lack of immediate action on the cost of living will be seized upon by Labour, while the EU will be readying themselves for yet more horse trading over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The red meat within the speech – pushing back EU regulation, toughening up borders and more powers for the police – will play well within the party, but levelling up will be key to ensuring whether those voters in the Red Wall who lent their vote to the Conservatives in 2019 stay with them. It’s make or break time for Boris.