In the Queen's speech, the Tories dragged Labour onto their preferred territoryby Jay Elwes / May 8, 2013 / Leave a comment
“A stronger economy so that the United Kingdom can compete in the world.” “A fairer society that rewards people who work hard.”
In those two phrases today, the Queen, reading the government’s agenda in the ceremonial State Opening of Parliament, set out the basic structure of politics between now and the next election.
That election will take place in 2015, and today’s policy announcements are fitted to that date. The cut in corporation tax to 20 per cent will come in April 2015. An increase in capital investment plans, 2015-16. The devolution of spending to the regions, as advised by Michael Heseltine in his review, will start in 2015. New childcare vouchers—2015-16. Single-tier state pension—2016.
There will be a broad reform of the benefits system, with the introduction of the universal credit, a benefit cap, a reform of housing benefit and pension reform. There will be a deregulation of business to “reduce the burden of excessive regulation on business.” There will be an intellectual property bill and a consumer rights bill, while the Audit Commission will be scrapped.
It is clear from this where the government thinks its strengths lie, and conversely, where Labour’s weaknesses reside. This is a programme of pro-business, economic streamlining, in which the fat is being cut from the benefits system and the rules relaxed. There is a strong chance that Conservatives, knocked off kilter somewhat by the success of Ukip at last week’s local elections, will like what they hear.
They will certainly like the sound of the proposed Immigration Bill, which will make it harder for immigrants to draw on the benefits and social services systems and easier for the authorities to throw out those who are living off the state and giving nothing back. They will also be pleased with the Anti-Social, Crime and Policing Bill.
They will not, however, welcome the HS2 Hybrid Bill, the intention of which is to grant the government the power to compulsorily acquire land that is needed to construct the high-speed rail links connecting London to Britain’s other major cities. Much of this land is to be found in the heartlands of the Conservative south. Ukip knows an opportunity when it sees one. There is potential for intense trouble for the government if this is pushed ahead.
Another area of conflict comes in the government plans, also put forward today, to reform teacher’s pay, so that salary is linked more closely with performance. The NUT is not going to like this one little bit—the possibility of strikes moves a step closer.
There were also announcements on energy, water, offender rehabilitation, defence reform and the importance of keeping Scotland in the union.
But this Queen’s speech and the legislative program behind it suggest a strong thrust on the part of the government to set the political agenda for the next election. It has opted for business, immigration, the economy and benefits. These are weak points for Labour, less so for Ukip. As for the Liberal Democrats, it is hard to know what to say. This Queen’s Speech is composed almost entirely of Conservative-flavoured policies and it is very hard to detect their hand in any of what was proposed (perhaps with the exception of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill).
The government has drawn the opposition onto its preferred territory. It is on these terms that the next election will be decided.