With Boris Johnson securing a convincing victory in last week’s election, today’s Queen’s Speech signified the start of his new government – though the Queen’s choice of a car over a State Coach for her arrival at the Palace of Westminster denied him some of the pomp and ceremony he might have wished for.
The prime minister vowed in his victory speech last week to repay the trust of new Conservative voters. He reinforced this with today’s announcements that sought to meet the priorities of the nation – with a focus on investment in the public sector, infrastructure and communities.
The narrative remains similar to the speech nine weeks ago – but this time it took place in an entirely different political context. The Government benches are spilling into the aisles and today’s announcements had a sense of intent.
Last week’s election left three words firmly on the agenda: Get Brexit Done.
It was no surprise the Speech opened with an emphatic commitment to deliver the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 January.
This is by no means the first ‘hard’ deadline the country has heard, but with the new makeup of parliament it may well be the last. The Brexit Bill will likely be brought to the Commons tomorrow, when it is expected to pass comfortably.
The Speech also included a commitment to a devolved Government in Northern Ireland, and a reform of the immigration system with the aim of ensuring a pipeline of skilled workers into the economy.
The NHS was a talking point during the election campaign and, as ever, served as a political football between the parties. Today’s speech laid down a guarantee to increase spending on the service every year the Government is in power, with a Bill on this expected to be one of the first pieces of legislation in the new year.
Of significant importance is the commitment to extra funding for social care. The Local Government Association today welcomed the announcement and reiterated that, while Brexit will dominate its immediate agenda, the Government “should not delay in delivering a long-term funding solution” for the future of social care and should build on work to ensure the “transfer of power to local authorities who know their areas best”.
Housing, infrastructure and devolution
Housing looks to be a key focus of the new Government, with commitments announced to protect tenants through the Renters’ Reform Bill and abolish the use of ‘no fault’ evictions. It will also implement lessons learned from Grenfell through the Fire Safety Bill, and publish a draft Building Safety Bill to carry through the recommendations of the Hackitt review of building regulations.
It has pledged to support home ownership under its proposed ‘First Homes’ initiative – a repackaging of the failed Starter Homes programme – the introduction of a renewed Affordable Homes programme and a reformed Shared Ownership model.
Two white papers will be delivered – a Planning White Paper to make the planning process clearer, and a Social Housing White Paper to support tenants and further the supply of social homes.
The commitment to infrastructure outlined in the last Queen’s Speech was reinforced today, as the Government pledged to “implement the biggest infrastructure revolution in living memory”. Johnson promised major investments in the Midlands Rail Hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail, as well as commitments to improving current networks and ensuring minimum levels of service are maintained during transport strikes.
The National Infrastructure Strategy will be published alongside the next Budget – to improve digital, transport and energy infrastructure across the UK in a bid to unlock the potential of local economies and reduce regional inequalities.
There was also a commitment to give communities greater control over how the promised government investment is spent, and a pledge to level up proposals for devolution across England – including increasing the number of mayors.
The speech reasserted the Conservatives’ commitment to a net-zero Britain by 2050. The promised Environment Bill will put environmental principles into law, focused specifically on tackling air pollution, banning the dumping of plastic waste abroad, and improving and enhancing biodiversity in development.
This Queen’s Speech carried more weight than the last – emblematic of a government confident of its ability to pass legislation, not felt since the days of New Labour.
As Johnson seeks to transform the Government, a focus of the new leadership will be to reform Westminster and Whitehall, with reviews announced today into the criminal justice system, the constitution, and defence and foreign policy.
Today’s announcements also signify Johnson redefining the Tories’ approach to regionalism – a delivery of one of the promises of his election campaign?
Whether this or any of the wider commitments outlined today will come forward before the UK leaves the European Union is anyone’s guess.