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14 October 2019

The Queen’s Speech was an election broadcast, but not a very good one

Shorn of a majority, the government can use these events to talk about its values, and little else.

By Stephen Bush

This was a surreal Queen’s Speech, because there is a strong case to argue that the monarch setting out the programme of a government with no majority is no more newsworthy than, say, Jo Swinson shooting the breeze for 45 minutes about the state of modern liberalism, and a watertight case to argue that it is less important than the speech that John Swinney, the Scottish education secretary, will give to the SNP conference this afternoon.

While Swinney, like his opposite number Gavin Williamson, is a member of a government with no majority, the SNP has consistently been able to get its legislation through, while Boris Johnson’s government…hasn’t. For understandable reasons, the jibe from the opposition parties is that this was a party political broadcast by any other name.

The problem is that it wasn’t even a party political broadcast. The Palace always takes great lengths to avoid using the preferred buzzwords of whichever party is in power, so we were treated to a very dull walk-through of the government’s big political priorities – negotiating new trade deals! Restricting the free movement rights of Brits and European citizens! Looking after the NHS! Being tougher on crime! – minus their slogans.

The main legislative meat – albeit for a programme that will never be enacted by this parliament – consists of Brexit bills for trade, agriculture, fisheries and financial services, bills which the government was unable to pass under the last prime minister because it had no majority to see off amendments from supporters of a soft Brexit or Brexit opponents. They will meet the same fate unless or until the government can win a majority at an election.  

Will this help? Well, frankly, you can say a lot about Elizabeth II but no one would claim that she specialises in short shareable soundbites, so this speech isn’t going to, in of itself, change minds or move votes. But the biggest advantage the government has in this very long election campaign is that their set piece events are treated more seriously and given more coverage than that of the opposition parties. That may mean they enter the campaign proper in a position of entrenched strength.

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