Normally in the run-up to a Queen’s Speech, Westminster watchers wonder how radical the Prime Minister feels like being – and how much political capital they have available to spend. But of course this year’s Speech is rather different, because the Prime Minister has no political capital and the negotiations with the DUP haven’t concluded. Moreover, Theresa May has never given the impression that she wants to be particularly radical, even in her honeymoon days as the Prime Minister who gets things done. Her pitch in the election was to get a bigger majority so she could have a quiet life while carrying out the Brexit negotiations. She certainly hasn’t got a quiet life, and she will have to be even less radical than she’d initially planned.
There is a tension in preparing the legislative programme for the next two years between a threadbare speech that is sufficiently palatable to get through Parliament without the government’s authority being called into question, and a speech that looks as though the government actually has a sense of purpose. Normally, whips and others in a party concerned with management of troublesome backbenchers would also be worrying about how to keep MPs busy, but there is a general view in Westminster that the Great Repeal Bill, with all its secondary legislation and the many committees that come with that, will keep MPs so busy that they don’t have time to plot in corridors anyway. This is based on the rather quaint assumption that MPs really pay attention in committees scrutinising secondary legislation, when in reality they are told by the whips and more experienced hands upon entering parliament that these sessions are a great opportunity to catch up on constituency correspondence. Given the implications of the Great Repeal Bill, MPs may be a little more switched on in their delegated legislation committees, or they may use them as a great opportunity to catch up on the latest plot against the Prime Minister in a Whatsapp group.
As we discussed on this morning’s Coffee House Shots podcast, cancelling the 2018 Queen’s Speech in favour of a two-year session could be seen as a nakedly political move by May, but ministers are also relieved that it means they can park any difficult legislation that does end up on the Queen’s Speech vellum until later, when things have settled down.
That assumes that things are going to settle down at any point. Many MPs seem to think that the best option would be for Theresa May to act as the political equivalent of a ‘bad bank’. They want her to take responsibility for any unpopular compromises in the Brexit negotiations, hoovering up the fury of her party at the election result until the party grows tired of being furious and realises that it really doesn’t want to precipitate another election. At that point, May could depart and hand to a new leader a slightly less poisoned chalice than the one currently on offer to anyone considering moving against the Prime Minister.
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