11th May, 2021

David Laws – Perspective on the Queen’s Speech

Governments and political commentators tend to get very excited about the annual Queen’s Speech – which sets out the government’s legislative agenda for the year ahead. Many hours are spent in government haggling over the Bills that are to be included and trying to frame a political narrative around what is often a hotch-potch of different measures. But what is actually unveiled is usually rather underwhelming – as it simply sets out the implementation in law of policy that has already been announced. Hence, Budgets are usually more interesting than the “Gracious Speech” – they usually include surprise announcements, and involve financial decisions affecting most adults and businesses.

This year’s Speech is no different – most of it is not a surprise, and represents a re-heating of government agendas on issues such as “levelling up”. “Levelling up” is one of those government slogans that is soon going to need some meat on the bone, rather like Cameron’s “big society”, which never achieved a “fleshed out” state.

What is missing is often more important than what is included, and there are still no detailed plans for the “reform of social care”. The problem with reform of social care is that it is very expensive, and not a bill that the Treasury wants to pay. To the extent that “reform” means more affluent people avoiding social care costs in order to pass on assets to their children, the Treasury is unlikely to consider this to be a priority unless the cost burden is also met by richer, older, people – which Boris Johnson is unlikely to find politically attractive.

As well as matters of public interest, the Queen’s Speech usually contains matters of political interest. Boris Johnson wants to axe the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, so he is free to call the next General Election at a time of maximum political advantage – perhaps in two years time. He might then be helped by another measure tucked away in the speech – to allow people to vote even if they have lived abroad for many years. Mr. Johnson will hope that many such voters will cast their ballots for his party. No wonder the State Opening of Parliament is usually a greater pre-occupation for politicians than it is for the public.