Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Queen speaks

I am not a fan of the political ventriloquism of how the Queen’s speech works.

It is a good thing to have some pomp, ceremony and history associated with the opening of Parliament. But a better approach would be for the Queen to be able to speak as Head of State about the value of Parliament and the democratic process, with her government’s substantive programme of legislation then set out by the Prime Minister and government ministers whose words these are.

The opening line today “my government’s overriding priority is to ensure sustained growth to deliver a fair and prosperous economy for families and businesses” – captures how the speech is inevitably caught awkwardly between jarring effects if it gets any closer to the language of a political manifesto ("my government will govern for the many not, the few") and being unable to say anything at all about why the measures are being introduced, so that the Queen must simply read out a staccato shopping list of legislation.

Still, it is very good to hear the Queen set out that her government will push on to “enshrine in law its commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020”.

That is a reminder too that the legislative ambitions set out in the Queen’s speech need to be combined with choices on priorities for spending and taxation in the pre-budget report and budget to show how to values of fairness can best combine continued commitments to tackle poverty and reduce inequality with the commitment to halve the current budget deficit across the next Parliament.

The personal care Bill is probably the most important long-term policy measure in today's speech.

“My government will work towards creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons” refers to the Washington disarmament talks next Spring. I suspect that may be bolder language than the Queen has been asked to use previously on aspirations to multilateral nuclear disarmament, and may perhaps offer a further hint there of the willingness to put Trident renewal on the negotiating table

On constitutional reform, even if there were barriers to an electoral reform referendum, it is a missed opportunity not to legislate for a later referendum to put the issue to the electorate, perhaps in 2011.

Brown's challenge over the Tories stubborn refusal to ditch their inheritance tax cuts was effective:

This must be the only tax change in history when the people proposing it – the opposition leader and the shadow chancellor – will know by name almost all of the potential beneficiaries.

John Rentoul quotes an unnamed shadow cabinet minister as saying of Oliver Letwin and David Cameron's John Rawls like commitment that the "The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich" that it may be the test, "but that doesn't mean we have to pass it".

One strange thing about David Cameron's response was, while challenging the government over the symbolism and politics of some of the proposed Bills, he also argued for more of them.

Cameron said that what was most striking about the Queen's speech was the legislation that was missing.

"Where is the immigration bill?" he asked and where was legislation to fulfill government commitments on directly elected police representatives.

He added: "The NHS – not a mention. Not government's priority?

Perhaps demonstrating why no modern government is ever likely to kick the habit of showing what it cares about by legislating about it.


13eastie said...

Re. child poverty: Labour has been in power for twelve years and has failed to achieve even its own goals on this. After ten years of Labour, UNICEF placed the UK bottom among 21 industrial countries for child well-being. The record is pitiful. For Brown to suggest that what is now needed is a law to make his own policy happen twelve years on is utterly risible.

Re. electoral reform: the Prime Minister has arguably been well advised that he ought first to test-drive the current electoral system before he starts making a load of badly-thought-out, hasty legislation binding his successor to tampering with it.

Robert said...

The new idea now is not to remove child poverty by getting people back to work or better benefits, Labours new idea is to employ people to give advice on how to get out of poverty by using the money you have better.

So it's just another new labour idealistic twaddle. what we need is labour to leave power now.