This Queen’s Speech has all the stench of a government in decay and on the way out. Listening to the stream of Ministers talking it up on 5 Live you would think the Government was still hugely popular, the Prime Minister is at the peak of his powers and that the Bills in the Queen’s Speech were spectacular in their audacity. None of these three descriptions is remotely true. They know it, we know it, and, more to the point so do the voters.
Two themes dominate this Queen’s Speech. The first is ‘talking tough’. John Reid and Gordon Brown have been trying to ‘out-tough’ each other over recent days. Older readers will remember the nouveau riche Brummie personified by Harry Enfield as ‘considerably richer than yow’. His modern day equivalent is an aspirant Labour leadership candidate whose constant refrain is: ‘I’m considerably tougher than YOW’. The Home Office Bills being put forward in this parliament certainly give John Reid an opportunity to perform and reinforce his authoritarian reputation. But as we saw from the last session he will not have an easy task in taking the House of Commons with him. The Conservatives have proved to be unlikely allies for Shami Chakrabarti and Liberty, but they have successfully stolen Labour’s civil liberties clothes. John Reid believes is in tune with the mood of our times. He believes Labour’s message of ‘Security in a Changing World’ is one that resonates with voters, who will understand if sometimes their individual rights are infringed. But the Conservative retort may well prove to be an enduring one. They accuse Reid of talking tough but never following through on the headline grabbing initiatives he announces on a seemingly daily basis.
The eleventh Criminal Justice Bill in nine years will give him further opportunities to ‘mug a hoodie’. He will contrast his tough stance with the apparently soppy line put forward by David Cameron. As David Davis’s ex Chief of Staff I think I am in a position to make clear that Davis won’t let him get away with it. The immigration paper published by Davis and his immigration spokesman Damian Green last week was a masterful way of putting forward a policy based on softer rhetoric but tougher policy. Reid was caught unawares and rushed round the TV studios to denounce it, yet in the Queen’s Speech he is putting forward measures which he denounced only a few days ago.
The Climate Change Bill is perhaps the most interesting of the 29 contained in the Queen’s Speech. The Conservatives and LibDems have allied themselves with the green lobby and are calling for annual targets. David Miliband sticks to his 60% reduction by 2050. All parties conveniently ignore the fact that these targets are completely meaningless unless India and China address the issue of climate change. By 2050 their economies will be emitting more greenhouse gases than the US does now.
Bearing in mind that pensions is a subject which instantly sends most people to sleep I wonder if this might be the area of most controversy over the coming year. I detect little sign of a cross party consensus on the way ahead and the Government’s proposals are bound to provoke reactions, not just from the Opposition, but their own supporters. The Pensions Bill will also give John Hutton a chance to shine. If, as is rumoured, he is considering a tilt at Gordon Brown, here’s the perfect platform from which to do it.
And that brings me on to the second theme which dominated the Queen’s Speech – well, perhaps not a theme, more of a cloud.
This is a nothing Queen’s Speech. It is a safety first speech dominated by the desire of an outgoing Prime Minister to appear as if he’s still in charge, and the intention of an incoming Prime Minister to ensure that people think he is.
And in that short sentence one can see how the next year will pan out in politics. Everything will be seen through the prism of Tony Blair’s departure and Gordon Brown’s arrival. And for those of us who continue to be fascinated with the political process, it’s going to be quite a year.