Queen's Speech 2012: 24 Hours To Go
Tomorrow the Queen will take to her throne in the House of Lords to deliver the long awaited opening of the Parliamentary Session. In advance of the Speech, today three of our political experts look at what the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour want to see in the Queen's Speech and some analysis of what they might get.
The Queen’s Speech will highlight Bills and legislative plans for the 2012-2013 Parliamentary Session and will be the first such outline since 25th May 2010. The Speech will demonstrate compromises made by both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives as they work to maintain a united front as a Coalition Government.
Lisa Bailey, a former Conservative communications strategist will outline what they hope to gain politically and what policy initiatives will make it into the Queen’s Speech, especially in light of a difficult 2012.
Will Davies, a former journalist and a member of the Lib Dem 2010 General Election Team, talks about what Nick Clegg may have negotiated into the Speech and, perhaps more importantly, what has been left out.
Finally, resident Labour analyst, Chris Calland, will talk about the Official Opposition. He gives his take on Labour’s asks for the Queen’s Speech and priorities for the coming Parliamentary Session. Chris explores the opportunities now available for Ed Miliband to score points against David Cameron.
Look out tomorrow for PLMR’s sector by sector analysis of the Queen’s Speech. Our specialists will examine the impact of the Queen’s Speech on Health and Social Care, Education and Skills, Energy and Renewables, Life Sciences, Technology, Planning, Lobbying and the Third Sector. PLMR will give you our view of the Speech and how new legislation will affect these crucial areas.
Three years to turn it around
Following the disappointing results of last week’s elections Conservative MPs have been vocal about their fears that David Cameron is letting the next General Election slip from his grasp. But perhaps more worrying for Cameron and his Ministers have been the results in France and Greece.
This build-up of Eurozone opposition to austerity threatens to sweep away the economic consensus that George Osborne has put at the centre of his economic policy. Mr Hollande’s win, backed by the wholesale rejection of mainstream parties in Greece, the collapse of the Dutch Government, protests in Spain and mayhem elsewhere, tilts the balance of the European debate sharply away from austerity.
Conservative criticism of Cameron and Osborne has been compounded this week by David Davis, John Redwood and Tim Montgomerie inputting to the Alternative Queen’s Speech which calls for a referendum on Europe, certainly not an area Cameron will want to discuss this week!
Cameron needs the support and backing of his Party this week more than ever, not simply because of Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech but also because the Prime Minister’s former adviser, Andy Coulson, will be giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. Cameron and his team will endeavour to focus attention on the legislative announcements included in the Queen’s Speech, but this will be tough given that Westminster will be distracted by the Leveson circus.
So what can we expect tomorrow? Cameron will not want to further rile his Conservative MPs, who have made it clear that their constituents are not interested in House of Lords reform and think the Party are out of touch with the issues affecting them. This will be a blow to the Prime Minister and more so to Clegg, so he will want to draw attention towards matters such as action on education and welfare. Cameron will also want the Speech to include a nod to what has been achieved in the first two years of the Coalition Government.
He will also want a focus on the growth agenda and to convey a united front with Nick Clegg on measures to boost growth in the medium term. However, any measures will be particularly dependent on favourable global conditions and the top team in Government will want to convey this – against the backdrop of a movement leftwards in Europe.
The next few months will be the biggest test yet of Cameron’s political skills. He knows that the status of the economy will determine the success of the Party in 2015, not this Queen’s Speech. Heading into the summer, the Jubilee and the Olympics may well take the political pressure off, but Cameron will want a united Party back as soon as possible. In the short term Cameron needs to re-establish the Government’s reputation for competence and to continue reminding the electorate what the Coalition is trying to achieve. The Queen’s Speech may not accomplish all these goals, but Cameron and his team will be hoping tomorrow is a turning point.
Indeed, Cameron may actually be quietly pleased that his popularity and that of the Coalition is at its lowest ebb three years out from a General Election. If the Queen’s Speech is the turning point, he has significant time to build towards success in 2015.
Liberal Democrat Analysis
Compromise not conciliation?
If you believe press reports, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have been struggling to agree on a legislative programme for the Coalition leading up to 2015. As a result, this year may well see a thinner than usual Queen’s Speech with approximately 12 Bills being touted for inclusion.
As the junior party in a Coalition Government overseeing a seemingly deeply unpopular and divisive series of austerity measures, it would be straightforward to look to the polls and conclude, as many commentators have, that the UK’s third party is fighting for its very existence.
This view has gained greater credence following last week’s disastrous local elections which saw the Liberal Democrats lose 330 councillors and drop below a total of 3,000 for the first time in their history.
The paradox is that, despite this setback, if you talk to activists and campaigners there is a not only a genuine pride at what they’ve achieved in Government but also cautious optimism which belies their apparent condition in the eyes of the voting population at large. I am advised that membership is growing, grass-roots campaigning is blossoming and the party’s own polling suggests that, contrary to the doom and gloom reporting, it is in fact, beginning to turn the tide of opinion at a national level.
The Lib Dems aren’t the only party licking their wounds following the local elections; their coalition partners also had a bruising day at the polls. The Conservative’s failures have led to backbenchers and grass roots activists advocating a move to the right and ‘serial rebel’ Nadine Dorries MP claiming that the population are losing patience with the Prime Minister.
Of course should David Cameron acquiesce to any lurch to the right we could see a very different Queen’s Speech with Lords Reform and Gay Marriage legislation two of the so-called ‘liberal’ policies that might fall by the wayside. Indeed Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone stated in her blog yesterday that Gay Marriage legislation will not be in the Queen’s Speech, although the idea that David Cameron was ‘backing down’ on Gay Marriage was denied by Downing Street.
It seems unthinkable, given the recent rhetoric coming from Nick Clegg and Vince Cable that Lords Reform would be shelved. The BBC’s James Landale suggested recently in his blog that reforming the Second Chamber is likely to be prioritised ahead of other promised legislation.
If this prediction comes to fruition on Wednesday it will further enrage Conservative back benchers who already feel that reforming the Lords is as Simon Hart, Conservative MP for Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire, said: “a time-consuming, expensive and divisive measure.”
However, following defeat in the AV referendum last year, Nick Clegg is keener than ever to secure a reform of the Lords. With his party clamouring for this totemic Lib Dem achievement in government, Mr Clegg has reportedly been pushing for other controversial measures to be kept to a minimum in order to allow plenty of time for the House of Lords reform legislation to be passed. This is a risky strategy of course as there are many barriers to reform, none less than the probable reluctance of Peers to vote for their own downfall.
On other fronts Lib Dems continue to be concerned with fears that measures to dramatically increase surveillance of the internet will be incorporated into a Bill to set up the new National Crime Agency. Opponents believe the Government is deliberately attempting to stifle backbench discussion by including the measures in a wider Bill.
Coalition government is, as Ministers are keen to opine, about compromise. How much both parties have acquiesced will become clear on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see if, as seems likely, House of Lords reform is the stand out announcement of the Queen’s Speech, how Liberal Democrats across the country will react to the inevitable compromises elsewhere.
Opposition needs killer instinct
Ed Milliband will have been licking his lips over the last two months as the Coalition, and particularly the Conservatives, have exposed themselves to scandal – Jeremy Hunt’s suspect handling of News Corps bid for BskyB, accusation of incompetence, Theresa May’s ‘diary hiccup’ and the on-going furore over Andrew Lansley’s controversial health reforms are among the Government’s recent high profile blunders.
Labour is also buoyed by the results of the local elections and will go into the next Parliament needing to push home the advantage. As Tom Watson MP said in some of the coverage the Labour Party has “won the right to be heard.” I am sure the Labour Party faithful will be hoping that Ed Miliband uses the extra vim and go on the offensive.
There will be no lack of ammunition to attack the coalition in the coming year. Three Bills likely to be announced in the Queen’s Speech will be difficult for this Government: Lords Reform, Lobbying Bill and the Banking Reform Bill. The Labour front bench team should be able to and must score direct hits against the Coalition if it is to build on recent boosts at the polls.
House of Lords Reform will be a very sticky issue for Cameron now with many of his party wondering if they can stomach the fight, while Nick Clegg will see this as a key part of the Lib Dem agenda. Miliband will be keen to remind everyone that the reform of the House of Lords was actually a Labour initiative to start with. So while Cameron is trying to keep his Party together, Miliband will be relishing the opportunity to re-hash old Conservative stereotypes based around elitism and the ‘old boy’s network’.
The Banking Reform Bill will be centred on implementing the recommendations arising from the Vickers report. George Osborne and Ed Balls will go head to head on these changes which break up the large multifaceted banks into two streams: High street banks offering day to day banking services and investment banks as separate entities to isolate the public from the frailties of the global economy. We heard last week from Sir Mervyn King about how important these measures are to the future security of our banking system; however, will Balls feel like this is too close to home given his leading role under Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, in de-regulating the banks?
Recent revelations about the relationship between senior government officials and Ministers and lobbyists, culminating in the Jeremy Hunt-Adam Smith-Frederic Michel triangle will fuel calls to give the Lobbying Bill some real teeth. Miliband and his team will use it as an excuse to remind the public about the scandals that have affected not just Jeremy Hunt, but also Dr Liam Fox and Cameron himself after revelations of the Cash for Access policy of the Conservative Party.
The Labour Party faithful will be looking forward to fireworks at the dispatch box and hoping Miliband can effectively attack the Coalition on a number of fronts. The 2012 Queen’s Speech is a huge moment for Labour’s Leader. Can the Labour Leader push on and build his credibility?