There wasn’t much pomp around today’s Queen’s Speech, despite the fact that this second speech of the autumn is the one that will actually get delivered. With a majority, Boris Johnson is able to say confidently that his government is going to introduce all the policies listed in the Speech and that they will pass too.
This means that the government can transmit its key messages for the voters it has just won over without fear that its own MPs will scupper those policies before they have a chance to be implemented. In his introduction to the speech, Johnson writes: ‘I am humbled by the trust millions of voters placed in this government last week. The work to repay that trust starts here.’ And it’s a weighty list of policies, too. After getting Brexit done, the priority is the NHS, with the government enshrining in law the funding increase for the health service, reforms to make the NHS safer, as well as reform of the Mental Health Act, and a rather wishy-washy promise to ‘seek cross-party consensus on proposals for long term reform of social care’ to ‘ensure that the social care system provides everyone with the dignity and security they deserve and that no-one who needs care has to sell their home to pay for it’. This will be much harder to deliver: one of the many reasons that attempts to reform social care over the past two decades have failed is that the parties do ultimately disagree on the big questions behind it, such as the role and size of the state and how government regards private wealth. But with a majority, the Conservatives can go ahead without Labour’s backing anyway, if they’re really serious about social care.
The theme of trying to win the trust of the new Tory voters – focusing ‘on the people’s priorities’ – continues with new laws on employment, renters’ rights and of course the commitment to more police officers. There are some reforms which might initially seem attractive to voters but which also include matters that haven’t ever been near the top of their lists of priorities, including the review into the criminal justice system. Victims of crime will find some of the plans here comforting, but there is a much wider dysfunction in the justice system which includes crumbling and disordered prisons, inefficient and under-funded courts, and problems with access to legal aid as a result of reforms brought in by the Tories in the Coalition years in particular. Fixing this is likely to require the spending taps to be opened even more widely.
And just because there is a majority to pass all of these laws, doesn’t automatically mean that they will necessarily have a smooth passage through parliament. The Online Harms Bill, for instance, has noble aims but some of its details may cause a debate between conservatives and liberals within the Tory party. Plans for constitutional reform won’t be uncontroversial, either, particularly if they go so far as to try to reform the House of Lords. There will be complaints if the measures for the Armed Forces aren’t strong enough. But these are all the little problems of a majority government which lead to amendments and adjustments, not rebellions, pauses and resignations. For the first time in a decade, the government can confidently say that it really can do what it wants to.