Is May’s Queen’s Speech her “first and last”?
Today, the Queen’s Speech presented the UK government’s legislative programme after a series of controversial U-turns and failing to secure a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that would guarantee a House of Commons majority. A senior Tory backbencher said that May’s Queen Speech would be “her first and last.”
Last night, Theresa May pledged to govern with humility and resolve, recognising the limitations of her political plans and controversial proposals.
Queen’s Speech: What is it?
It is the main event of the State Opening of Parliament. Every year, the Queen announces the government’s laws in the House of Lords in front of MPs, peers and other officials. The speech is written by the PM and outlines the new bills that the government hopes to pass in the following twelve months. The event is a spectacle with well-kept traditions, dating back to the sixteenth century, but the ceremony, as it stands, dates from 1852. The Queen receives the document in advance so that she signs it. The whole ceremony reminds one of fairy tales and includes the Queen’s procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, accompanied by the Household Cavalry. Ceremonial robes and lavish garb from times past blend with modern times and politics, bringing us back to reality. The Queen chose a blue hat and coat instead of her traditional crown and robes. The Evening Standard used the headline, “Dressing down for May” in its cover, while others commented on the similarities of the Queen’s hat to the European flag.
The 2017 Queen’s Speech
In the Queen’s speech—a thinner version of her manifesto—May has focussed on Brexit, since according to figures from her own party, Brexit is the “only big thing that everyone can agree needs to happen.” There are nine bills that will implement Brexit.
The Queen’s Speech also includes domestic policies such as bills to reduce motor insurance premiums, restructure financial authorities, draft bills to strengthen domestic violence laws and get rid of tenants’ fees. Measures to improve mental health care and technical education, a policy on social care, increase national living wage and reduce the deficit will be mentioned too.
Another member of the Government told the Independent that “Because of the election result, knowing it is all the more difficult to get legislation through, it’s going to be a Queen’s Speech that reflects the implications. The main thing will be Brexit, and we now have a two-year session to achieve that. But the wish list for the world in which we were going to have a majority – that’s just not reality anymore.”
But Labour’s chair, Ian Lavery said that May had “no mandate, no authority and no programme” to win parliamentary support for those policies.
DUP Threat: “Show some respect”
The Northern Irish party complained that Tory negotiators were being critical of the DUP and demanded that they were shown “some respect.” DUP sources said that the Tories “attempted to bounce us into a deal on Saturday night and then we had the backbenchers saying that we were unsavoury, etc.” The DUP also said that the talks with the Conservatives “haven’t proceeded in a way that the DUP would have expected” and warned that they “can’t be taken for granted.”
Tory members said they were confident that the government will secure a deal with the DUP on Thursday, a week before MPs vote on the Queen’s Speech. May’s supporters and harshest critics appear to be by the PM’s side, at least for now.
A senior Conservative said: “As we have said, both parties are committed to strengthening the Union, combatting terrorism, delivering Brexit and delivering prosperity across the whole United Kingdom.”
The first secretary of state, Damian Green, said to Today’s programme this morning that there is still a possibility of the Tories striking a deal with the DUP. But others have commented that the Tory-DUP talks are going to be lengthy and we may have to wait until next week.
After the Queen’s Speech, DUP sources revealed that some of the points in May’s thin speech about defence and the military covenant were very similar to the DUP’s last election manifesto. They also questioned rumours that the DUP was asking for 1bn extra for the NHS and 1bn extra for infrastructure.
The Queen’s Speech, according to the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, offers no solutions and ignores the issues: “Having dropped everything from the dementia tax to fox hunting I assume the only reason they have proposed a space bill is so they can shoot their manifesto into space and pretend it never existed. People up and down the country are seeing our schools and hospitals in crisis. Proposed Tory cuts will leave our children in overcrowded classes in underfunded and crumbling schools, the sick left on trolleys in hospital corridors and the vulnerable without the vital services they rely on. This speech is bereft of any real solutions to these issues.”
Political commentators said that the dominant issue in the speech was “a Brexit monomania that confirms the Conservatives have become a single-issue party, setting out a programme dominated by multiple Brexit bills along with the grandiosely titled great repeal bill.” But, what was also alarming according to some, was omitting many problematic policies such as the dementia tax, ditching free school meals, austerity, and bringing back grammar schools, without, however, offering any solutions or addressing the source of the problem.
A vote to approve the Queen’s Speech will take place in the coming week, with one frontbencher saying, “We are hoping and praying that it will get through.”