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Expert Comment: The Queen's Speech

Parliament Thursday 9 May 2013

Professor Bill Jones from the Department of Politics, History, Media and Communications, on this year's Queen's Speech.

Some commentators, like Simon Hoggart and Polly Toynbee in The Guardian dwelt on the absurdity of the ceremonial; the Queen’s Speech, they wrote, is printed on goatskin vellum, the ink used, taking three days to dry properly, thus placing a time limit to measures proposed for inclusion. A handy piece of flummery with which to mock the arcane ceremonials which still comprise our political seasons. However, Nick Robinson managed to get there first yesterday on his blog and then had to perform an acute U turn:

"I regret to have to report that the goat has fallen victim to the age of austerity. This year's speech will be written on plain - or, in truth, rather posh - paper."

The key point of the event has little to do with goatskin or the Queen, of course, who is obliged to read out a mind numbing seven minute speech, scripted by Number 10 detailing the measures scheduled to be discussed and then passed into law before May 2014. There were 15 bills included and some of them, dealing with pensions and social care were useful - more pension and reduced social care costs- and even liberal additions to our welfare provision. But the main theme running through the Speech, was not May next year, but in 2015. Fear of doing badly in the general election - catalysed by the rise and rise of UKIP - seems to have injected syringes full of fear into the coalition.

Most political observers saw further immigration controls as the centre-piece of the programme. The proposed bill will restrict access of EU migrants to jobseekers allowance to six months, urges local authorities to give priority to local people when allocation social housing and reinforce the responsibilities of EU members to pay if their citizens take advantage while in the UK of the NHS. Not a world shaking measure, you might correctly think, but within the context of a new rampaging party howling about EU exploitation of British taxpayers’ money, it is makes a kind of sense. It is clearly designed to tell Tory voters thinking of voting UKIP that they are best advised to stick with David Cameron’s brand of measured euro-scepticism.

Will Conservative voters stay within the fold? Well, attempts to out UKIP Farage at the Eastleigh by election in February rather backfired and it will be interesting to see if UKIP’s surge is sustained over the next year or whether, rather like that other new party, the SDP in the early 1980s, it fades quickly from view.

Writing elsewhere in The Guardian, Martin Kettle’s judgement of the speech was that it marks the ‘beginning of the end for the coalition.’ He argues that the coalition will soldier on, rather like, it seemed to me, the kind of soured old couples you sometimes see sitting miserable and silent in pubs and restaurants, unable to communicate let alone have anything like a good time. Like them Kettle thinks the original purpose of the coalition partnership has died:

“… the larger animating purpose articulated by the coalition enthusiasts in 2010, the possibility that there was a sustainable liberal-conservative alternative to both Labour and to Thatcherite Conservatism, has failed. The apostles of this view, who certainly included David Cameron and Nick Clegg themselves, wanted to create a compassionate, internationalist, less intrusive, greener and more modern form of social and economic liberalism. True, they can point to some successes along the way, but in the main they have not done what they set out to do – and the new focus on immigration underscores their failure.”

Further evidence is provided by the measures not included in the speech. It seems likely the Liberal Democrats vetoed the ‘snooper’s charter’ proposals to give the security services power to monitor our emails. It seems like Tories vetoed the proposal for minimum pricing for alcohol plus proposals that cigarettes be sold in plain wrappings and that overseas aid be guaranteed rather than remain vulnerable to claims from predators in defence and other departments.

When Cameron and Osborne consider that a 2% increase in their vote will make them the biggest party and 5% win them a majority, it is easy to see why the Coalition’s leaders are so obsessed with out-kipping UKIP.



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