Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. Photo:Getty Images
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What to look out for in the Queen's Speech

Repealing the Human Rights Act is already out, but what might be in?

Today's Queen's Speech isn't the one that Downing Street expected. Senior Conservatives thought they would be back in office, yes, but in either a second coalition or another, looser, arrangement with Britain's smaller parties. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood on a manifesto that was coalition-ready, but unlike the Liberal Democrats, who carved out small policy areas they could wheedle from the Conservatives or Labour, the Tories started big, expecting to be negotiated down by the Liberal Democrats.

Now they have to find a way to climb down themselves without losing face. Repealing the Human Rights Act may get a namecheck in the speech but will not form part of the parliamentary timetable. With Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats all opposed, just six wavering Tories could defeat the measure, and there are certainly more than six Conservative MPs with concerns about leaving the European Court of Human Rights. That battle aside, what else is there to expect in the Queen's Speech?

In, Out, Shake It All About

With a majority secured, David Cameron can proceeded with his plans for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. Labour's U-Turn - the party, which opposed a referendum in the election, will now support the passage of a Referendum Bill through the Commons - isn't quite as pointless as it sounds. The Bill still has to pass through both Houses of Parliament, and without Labour support that could get tricky, as various amendments - whether turnout has to clear a certain threshold, whether the vote has to be carried in all the constituent kingdoms of the UK, who votes, what the exact question - get tacked on and voted on. Labour support means that there will definitely be a Referendum Bill at the end of the day - although it also emboldens Conservative rebels to ask for more, knowing that the referendum itself is now safely in the bag.

Are You There, GCHQ? It's Me, Margaret

The so-called "snoopers charter" is back. The Data and Communications Bill is contentious - you can read Caroline Lucas' argument against it here - the libertarian wing of the Conservative party will vote against but there will be more than enough authoritarians on the Labour benches to make its passage a formality.

Read My Lips: No New Taxes

The Tories will proceed with their plans to link the income tax threshold with the minimum wage and to outlaw any rises in income tax, valued added tax or national insurance for the next five years. Quite what they will do if at some point in the next five years, Greece defaults or a major bank gets into difficulty is, at time of writing, unclear.

They'll Take Our Seats, But We'll Never Devolve Their Freedom

A Scotland Bill will carry through the Smith Commission's plans to devolve further powers to the Scottish parliament. Against the wishes of some in his own party - and in Labour - David Cameron will not call Nicola Sturgeon's bluff and offer full fiscal autonomy, at least not yet.

Suffer The Little Children

Childcare is one to watch. Having spent most of the short campaign saying that 15 hours was fine, thank you very much, and that Labour's plan for 25 hours of free childcare was simply excessive, the Conservatives decided they were losing the fight - "it becomes a numbers game you can only lose" in the words of one MP - and went for 30 hours. It's not clear how this will be paid for, particularly in light of the party's deficit reduction timetable and the pledge not to raise taxes. 

Right To Buy 2: Straight To Video

The Conservative pledge to allow tenants to buy housing associations is one to watch. It's difficult to work out how you would draft this law without scooping in individual private landlords as well. Oh, and if it does pass, expect a court battle. It will, apparently, be in the Queen's Speech though. How the government gets out of this hole is, again, one to watch.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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