David Cameron got the chance to deliver his first genuinely conservative Queen’s Speech yesterday. So how did he do?
There was definitely more good than bad in the Queen’s 62nd address to Parliament. An EU referendum, tax reform and further measures to get welfare claimants into work were the main positives.
Big government pledges to subsidise childcare, and no significant change of direction on Britain’s expensive energy policy, were low points. Meanwhile, the Snoopers’ Charter – the bastard child of Theresa May and Orwell’s Airstrip One – made a comeback, to no-one’s great surprise. New laws against ‘extremism’ and ‘hate speech’ are also likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
The centrepiece of the Government’s programme for the next five years is of course the long-awaited EU referendum. The precise wording of the question has not been made public yet, but it is expected to be something along the lines of ‘Should the UK remain a member of the EU?’
Those who want to remain part of the anti-democratic continental system will now be able to claim the mantle of the ‘Yes’ campaign. The referendum is expected by the end of 2017 but could be held as early as next summer.
Promises not to hike income tax, VAT or national insurance in this parliament signal a welcome change in attitude towards tax and spending, whilst raising the personal allowance to £12,500 will deliver a much needed boost to working families.
Measures on welfare reform immediately show a government no longer in thrall to the Lib Dems. A freeze on working age benefits and a lower benefits cap are both positive moves, and combined with the proposed tax changes ought to make life on welfare less attractive compared to getting a job.
Meanwhile a proposed Enterprise Bill would seek to cut red tape for small businesses by at least £10 billion, which should make life easier for small firms, shops and one-person micro-setups.
Extending right to buy is a welcome declaration of support for home ownership, but stops short of the far more significant deregulation of planning laws needed to tackle Britain’s housing crisis.
On energy, there were some positive notes. The final say on large onshore wind-farms will now lie with local planning authorities instead of the Energy Secretary, hopefully giving local residents more power to halt construction near them.
However, no significant changes to overall energy policy were announced. The Climate Change Act – the most expensive piece of legislation in British history – is not going anywhere.
Although Her Majesty spoke of her government’s ‘proposals’ for a British Bill of Rights, no legislation was mentioned. British justice will remain locked into the Strasbourg-based European Court for the foreseeable future.
This was a big part of the Conservative agenda going into the election. It now appears to have been either postponed or moved into the ‘too-difficult’ box’. Perhaps someone realised that we already have a Bill of Rights?
Also conspicuous by its absence was any mention of repealing the 2005 ban on fox hunting, an issue that divides even Conservatives (I’m in favour of repeal, my wife is emphatically not. Discussions on this topic in the Manby household can get…interesting).
The whole thing was drenched in the language of Cameron’s ‘One Nation’ conservatism, a label the Prime Minister seems determined to rescue from the clutches of the Labour Party, who have appropriated it as an election slogan for the last few years – despite Ed Miliband not knowing who Benjamin Disraeli was.
There’s a lot to like in this Queen’s Speech. There’s a few things for libertarian right wingers like myself to hate as well. Ultimately, it’s still a far better speech than the one Ed Miliband would have given us – or indeed David Cameron, if he had been bound by another Coalition.
- EU referendum
- Getting more people off benefits and into work
- Cutting red tape for small businesses
- No income tax, VAT or national insurance hikes
- Personal allowance raised to £12,500
- Extend right-to-buy to housing association tenants
- Crackdown on illegal immigration and foreign criminals
- More devolution of powers to cities
- More powers to the Scottish Parliament
- Greater devolution for Wales and Northern Ireland
- Trade Union reform
- New powers to turn failing schools into academies
- Energy policy still tied to renewables/CO2 targets
- More taxpayer funded childcare
- A new crackdown on extremism and ‘hate speech’
- The ‘snoopers charter,’ proof that you just can’t kill a bad idea
… and the absent
- No mention of any draft legislation to replace the Human Rights Act
- No repeal of the fox hunting ban