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Queen's Speech 2013

Huw EvansExactly a year ago, I lamented in this blog the missed opportunity presented by the Queen's Speech to remind the public of the Government's core policies and values. 12 months on, Her Majesty is once again Westminster-bound and it seems wiser heads may have prevailed within Whitehall about using this annual set piece event to convey the politics and priorities of the Coalition.

Last year's event should serve as a textbook for how not to do it. The list of bills lacked any defining narrative and ignored key government priorities like welfare reform, deficit reduction and schools. Measures like the Croatia Accession Bill and the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill may have given the monarch something to read out but they were never going to reset the political agenda after a difficult budget. Worse, the legislative programme was too light, resulting in an embarrassing year in which MPs have often had so little legislative work to do that they have been able to be back in their constituencies by Wednesday night when Parliament is supposed to be sitting.

This year looks to be different. Firstly, with measures on issues such as benefits, immigration, consumer rights and care costs, it is more likely to feel relevant to the public's concerns with some very real political dividing lines. The danger for the Conservative side of the government is that following last week's local election results, the Westminster village treats these policies as being all about responding to UKIP rather than evidence of a proactive governing agenda. If Conservative ministers can sidestep that risk and achieve the holy grail of 'cut through' with swing voters then they will begin to have more confidence that their current poll numbers can be improved.

The second area of change is that this Queen's Speech is more likely to feel like a Coalition joint production than last year's non-event. True, the Liberal Democrats seem to have vetoed the Home Office's anti-terrorism surveillance measures but more broadly the range of measures, including important reforms such as the proposed single state pension, can act as a reminder that this Coalition can still agree on concrete measures and deliver a Commons majority behind them. Having swung in the last three years from the initial public love-in to the toxic rows over Lords and boundary reforms, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives seem to be using the penultimate Queen's Speech before an election to demonstrate they still have plenty of appetite for government - and an agenda to match it.

For insurers, there are likely to be several areas of interest; the single state pension which will help underpin auto-enrolment by removing means testing uncertainty; the Care Bill which should improve and simplify the social care system, helping people prepare for costs they may face in their retirement; a Water Bill which could be used to eventually legislate for a way forward on flooding and the bill to establish the Mesothelioma compensation measures which the Government and industry agreed in principle last year.

So the Government has a chance this year to build on a steady Budget with a Queen's Speech that demonstrates some purpose and politics. Admittedly this is not easy; most of the content of the bills will either be already known or published in such outline that the details will clearly have to be resolved through primary or secondary legislation. Nonetheless, today's events mark an important part of the annual political cycle, if only to reinforce priorities and try and set the terms of trade on the major issues of public policy. If MPs feel the package is worthwhile and focused on doorstep issues, the Government will gain that bit more breathing space to tackle its formidable in-tray of issues. Another damp squib and it will be that much more difficult for ministers to stress the importance of the work they are undertaking to a permanently sceptical public.


Last updated 29/06/2016