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.