The Queen’s Speech is one of the most important milestones in the political calendar. It comes as part of the State Opening of Parliament and sets out the Government’s legislative agenda for the following Parliamentary term.
Politically, the Queen’s Speech is important as an indicator of the Government’s ability to command the confidence of the Commons. A government, at a relatively early stage of the electoral cycle and with an 80-seat majority, should have little or no trouble getting its programme through.
However, following a series of crises and a poor set of election results the Prime Minister’s authority has waned within his party with post local election predictions indicating the Conservatives will be unable to form a majority government. Furthermore, there are no obvious coalition partners for the Conservatives given the impact that the NI protocol has had on the DUP’s fortunes or with Liberal Democrats still smarting following their time in coalition with David Cameron.
So, the objective of the Queen’s Speech has been two-fold. First, to show that the Conservatives are ‘back on track’ and dealing with the pressing cost of living crisis and delivering on their levelling up agenda with a view to securing a majority in 2024. Second, to shore up Boris Johnson’s position as Prime Minister with ‘red meat’ policies for backbenchers who, ultimately, hold his future in their hands.
Levelling up bills included in the speech’s section on Growing the economy include support for businesses, regeneration, modernising the rail network, improving schools and access to higher education, the establishment of a UK infrastructure bank and carry over bills such as the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill and support for the NHS and clearing up the Covid backlog. The Brexit freedoms bill and procurement bill deliver on promises to cut red tape for business.
There’s a similar focus on policing and security with tougher measures on protestors as well as improving sentencing, tackling violence against women and girls, updating national security measures on espionage and a further the economic crime bill gives more powers to seize cryptocurrencies and for Company’s House to tackle offshore funds. The online safety bill has also been carried over following a difficult passage in the previous parliamentary term.
What has not gone into the speech is also important. Promised bills such as an employment bill, which many in the retail sector have been pressing for and would enshrine flexible working, along with the trailed ban on foie gras and fur imports have not been included for fear of causing flashpoints with backbenchers.
Promised bills on the NI protocol also failed to make the cut; perhaps in reflection of the new political dynamic in Northern Ireland following the success of Sinn Fein in the Stormont elections and a more cautious approach to dealing with the EU.
Instead, the Prime Minister will want to set out a clear set of dividing lines with Labour and the Lib Dems on ‘culture war’ issues such as the media bill, which will begin the sale of Channel 4; freedom of speech rules in universities, preventing public bodies from organising boycott campaigns; banning conversion therapy for sexual orientation, but not gender therapy.
A crisp and targeted set of bills which have fired the starting gun for the next general election in 2024.