This will be the first Conservative only Queen’s Speech of the millennium. A surprise outcome to most, but in stark contrast to the fortunes of their Liberal Democrat former coalition partners, the Conservative Government now finds itself in the unexpected happy position of setting an agenda entirely of its own making.
Legislation such as the Counter-Extremism Bill and Communications Data Bill are cases in point. Torpedoed by the Lib Dems last time round due to concerns over privacy and free speech, these are measures the Conservatives have wanted to enact for some time, and that time is now.
With their slim majority in the Commons, the Conservatives will need to hit the ground running, and make the most of this honeymoon period, while they face a weak Opposition. With the travails of the Labour Party, and their focus distracted by the leadership contest, the Conservatives will seek to make the most of the opportunity they have.
This is perhaps evident in the focus on some of the more contentious parts of their manifesto, headlined by the EU Referendum Bill. While likely to just be a few pithy lines uttered by Her Majesty, the ramifications of these few lines are profound. There are clear divisions on this issue, not just between the parties, but also within the parties, particularly the Conservatives. If, as seems more than possible now, the Government seeks to push on with the negotiations and referendum, and bring forward the timetable, they will be hoping to cash in on the goodwill of backbenchers. But will it make much difference for such a contentious issue within the Party? Probably better than just to get on with it, get it out of the way – but much will depend on the deal negotiated with Brussels and other Member States.
While this is going on, and providing the Conservatives don’t implode through the EU debate, the Government will seek to introduce the Enterprise Bill, which will seek to slash red tape and other burdens on business. The Government is also looking at challenging the strength of trade unions – a classic Conservative proposal, but likely to lead to major unrest from the Labour movement, who are also looking at how to reform their own relations with unions.
The other key component of the Conservative drive to boost the economy is the sensible aim of redressing the balance between the north and south of the economy. Easy to say but a lot harder to achieve. This a key proposal for the Chancellor, with the aim of liberating the northern cities firstly from the centralized control of Westminster, but also from the choking effect of London on the rest of the country. If the Chancellor achieves this aim, without damaging the strength of the capital, then it will be a significant achievement for this Government.
One of the most significant promises David Cameron has made is his “vov” to the Scottish people to implement the proposals from the Smith Commission. While there has been discussion about going even further in devolving powers than the Smith Commission, it is clearly important that Cameron keeps this promise through a Scotland Bill, or risk the breakup of the Union. With the SNP now the third largest party in Westminster, they bring an entirely new angle on holding the Westminster Government to account – a curious and fascinating situation to watch unfold in the future.
The Election campaign, thought very boring until the dramatic denouement, was nevertheless hard fought, with the Conservative Party relying on a dwindling band of volunteers. Now is the time for them to reward their faithful followers and those that voted for them, so it is likely we will see this through proposals in the Queen’s Speech on personal taxation and possibly changes to inheritance tax, extending the Right to Buy, doubling free childcare, and most controversially, a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act.
There is plenty for the new Government to do, and judging the priorities is a fine balance. It is only through the reading of the Queen’s Speech that we will fully understand where the priorities lie, but it is likely to be a mix of pragmatism to boost the economy, as well as some more controversial measures from the manifesto that are better dealt with immediately – now is their time to make hay while the sun shines.
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October 15, 2020