Queen’s Speech: Vital moment for Theresa May as she tries to steady listing Conservative ship
- Credit: PA
This year it will outline the legislative programme for the next two years rather than the usual 12-months in a bid to give parliament more time to tackle the Great Repeal Bill – the mammoth task of converting European Union law into the UK’s.
And, as new Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom has outlined, there will also be some domestic policies – they will have to be carefully chosen.
But the true nature of this Queen’s Speech is a stress test for the damaged, weakened Tory Party under Theresa May.
Let us not forget as ministers present their two-year programme that this is a government which has now begun the most complex negotiations since the end of the Second World War with 27 EU nations and yet cannot reach an agreement with just 10 DUP members.
For Mrs May this is yet another crunch moment in her flagging leadership, another hurdle she must clear in her bid to cling to the reins of power.
At the moment the prime minister is adopting an each-day-as-it-comes philosophy, simply trying to survive. But laying down a solid Queen’s Speech could go some way to securing her place at the head of the Cabinet table – for now. Although formal introduction of bills will begin as soon as tomorrow the final motion will not be passed on the speech until June 29. At that moment the PM’s heart will be firmly in her mouth.
In all likelihood the speech will be passed. The DUP have tacitly agreed to as much already even though the formal talks linger on.
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But the tone of the chatter sparked by the programme from ministers and rank and file MPs is vital for Mrs May – the party needs reassurance once again. If her government does not amend proposals on issues including social care, free school meals and fox hunting the backlash could be too much for a Cabinet that has already put their boss on a final warning.
There are currently two prevalent schools of thought within the Tory Party on Mrs May’s future: Let her stumble on until the summer then shove her out of the door of Number 10 or wait until the Brexit negotiations are over and blame her if they go wrong.
The consensus had been to stick with their leader until after Brexit but the 48 hours following the horrific Grenfell Tower blaze – where Mrs May fumbled and floundered – has left many anxious about the damage another 18 months of this PM will do to the party.
Today some of the pomp will be stripped away. The reason for this is the postponement in light of the election fall out. But make no mistake, it has been decades since a prime minister has faced a Queen’s Speech that could determine their leadership.
So will the government be brave on domestic policy and stick to a manifesto that was widely derided and lost its three architects – former Ipswich MP Ben Gummer and advisors Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill – their jobs? Or is now the time to rein in the gloom of the campaign and ditch some of those unpopular proposals? It will probably be a fudge.
On extremism there will be measures to beef up the UK’s ability to fight terrorism. Mrs May already hinted at this when she spoke in Downing Street after the London Bridge attack.
Expect a bid to overhaul mental health care. The prime minister told this newspaper in an interview during the campaign that a new Mental Health Treatment Bill would form the backbone of “parity of esteem” between physical and mental illnesses.
And expect public pressure (and perhaps some DUP influence) to halt plans to squeeze pensioners, scrap free school meals and place a cap on that now infamous “dementia tax”.
What’s likely to make it? And what will be dropped?
• Social care
Having given this issue so much prominence during the campaign the government cannot simply ignore it now. But it will change. Expect more detail on the cap on costs – originally ignored by the Tories – and how homes may have to be sold to pay for health bills.
The Tory manifesto committed to meeting EU subsidy payments until 2022 but a replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy is needed soon and Suffolk’s farming community will be watching closely.
Farming Minister George Eustice has hinted that a new system could involve cuts in “lavish payments” to large landowners with a focus on smaller firms instead.
The creation of grammar schools was included in the manifesto – but it is controversial. The DUP back selective education but the policy is far from universally popular even among Mrs May’s own MPs. Given the prime minister’s struggle to get a majority this policy could well be kicked in to the long grass.
And don’t expect free school lunches to be scrapped either - the Tories simply don’t have the votes in the House of Commons.
The prime minister has already announced she will consult police and security chiefs to ask what powers they need to beef up security in the wake of several attacks. The Queen’s Speech may even include measures to remove human rights laws which some believe make it harder to fight terrorism. There is also widely expected to be proposals on how internet firms can do more to stop the spread of extremists messages online.
The election result has prompted a rethink of the government’s deficit reduction plans – but expect more details on that in the Autumn Statement. But after the backlash over stopping non-means tested benefits for pensioners and removing the triple lock from pensions it seems those proposals will be dropped.
• Fox hunting
There was an angry reaction from some to the decision to put fox hunting in the manifesto. There is little or no chance the government will now feel empowered enough to take it any further.