- Cameron and Clegg talk footie, birds, booze… and running the country.
The State Opening of Parliament outlines the programme of government for the next year. Given the fixation with ‘radical change’ and ‘new politics’, it is ironic that it is started with a traditional ermine-draped occasion full of pomp and circumstance. The Yeomans, Ushers and cries of “hats off strangers” are fairly irrelevant – yet lovably British and wholesomely patriotic – with the backdrop of seismic political change starting yesterday in the House of Parliament.
The Queen’s Speech was underpinned by the three core elements of the Coalition ‘Programme for Government’: freedom, fairness and responsibility. The job of the speech is to outline the programme of government legislation throughout the next Parliament. According to Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, there is enough for “18 months of legislation in there… we won’t have another occasion like this until November next year.” There is certainly a lot to pack in. There are a lot of compromises from both Conservative and Liberal Democrat camps, the latter’s biggest gains felt in political reform.
Political reform is high on the agenda. The fixed-term Parliaments of 5 years will be entrenched, as will a referendum on the Alternative Vote system. Reforming Parliament includes the use of “Parliamentary privilege”, expenses clean-up, 55% majority on dissolution and the chance to sack your own MP. This will come under the jurisdiction of Nick Clegg in his formal role as Deputy PM. The enshrinement of sovereignty from further influence of European parliaments, however is a ‘Con Hold’ in government policy.
Tackling the budget deficit is another key government target. The initial £6 billion in cuts were outlined yesterday by George Osborne, and today, the Speech unveiled plans to increase international economic competitiveness. Development aid is 0.07% of GNP, and the role of government services will be subject to radical reform.
The modernisation of Royal Mail, improvement of transport, healthcare, policing and education will see some level of privatisation, or communitarianation (for want of a better phrase) where public services become more accountable to local people is a key aspect of Government policy. Should people have better access to influence they way their public services are run? Put quite simply, yes. The arguments against it are futile; it opens the door to busybodies and not those ‘who have better things to do’.
The immigration cap, a Conservative policy strongly opposed by the Liberal Democrats during the election, was mentioned during the Speech. The Lib Dems were offered a consolatory boost with the inclusion of the ending of detention of illegally-immigrated children, however. The compromise represents one of the core aspects: responsibility. Both parties in the coalition know they do not fully deserve to be in government (they just deserve to more than anyone else) and there is a mature, pragmatic approach to how policy has been ‘divvied up’. Something for everybody. A responsible attitude to government that is commendable. Whether it will lead to further tensions we shall see.
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party leader elected MP for Brighton Pavilion, said the environmental policies were “watered down” and “lacking in detail”. The focus on energy efficiency within the home, and low-carbon energy production are not new proposals. Of course, it is hard to push a green agenda when the money is tight, but gradual changing in consumer trends will save CO2’s. Higher taxes on gas-guzzling cars for example, and cuts for electric, or low-energy cars could have no net loss on tax revenues. The next government needs to find ways to cut carbon emissions for free. Again, encouraging social responsibility.
- The Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords is a great Constitutional tradition
Foreign affairs also took precedent in the Speech. Supporting armed forces in Afghanistan was one of the key targets of the government. The Government will be working with the local governments of the region, including a surprising mention of India, to increase stability and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The “War on Terror” is far from over, and it is critical for the Government to understand this. The Government also advocates an independent Palestine, living peacefully alongside Israel. Nuclear proliferation was also warned off in the Speech.
Bringing government to the grass-roots is a welcome change to how we have lived for the past thirty years, where stifling bureaucracy and middle-management has caused gross inefficiency within our public services. I look forward to the new Parliament, as a strong activist – in writing and on the streets – of the Conservative election campaign. I look forward to seeing some of these policies in action, and a reversal of the degradation of society, community and hard work we saw under Labour. But, the rose-tinted glasses are off. The honeymoon period is over, and the cliches are running thick and fast. The Government needs to get started on reforming society, politics and public services if they are to keep my support. I urge all sixteen million Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters to do the same.